Blame the cellphone: Injuries pile up, from cat bites to shocks to broken bones

Our examination of Emergency Room reports to Consumer Product Safety Commission tells a hurtful story of people and their phones

Blame the cellphone: Injuries pile up, from cat bites to shocks to broken bones
Credit: Thinkstock/Wikimedia/Steve

We’ve all become aware of the dangers that drivers preoccupied with their cellphones cause on the roads and most have also probably seen plenty of “pedtextrians” endangering themselves by paying way more attention to their phones than their surroundings. But phone-related injuries go way beyond these two scenarios – we’re talking everything from ringing phones that supposedly scare dogs and cats into biting people to people being really dumb (and gross) about where they stick their smartphones.

Network World has examined the most recent batch of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data, collected from about 100 hospitals reporting emergency room visits into the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (view an infographic highlighting the data further down in this article, plus the full spreadsheet at bottom of this story). NEISS is used to help spot possible issues with categories of products that are causing harm. 

EMERGENCY ROOM STORIES: 25 Strange & Scary Real-Life Ways People Have Been Hurt Using Their Phones

While NEISS doesn’t identify specific product brands, such as an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Android phone, it does include a general product code for both cellphones and landline varieties. A search on that product code turned up 523 injury reports in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available available (injury counts gradually rose over the previous few years). And while some of the descriptions of injuries are cryptic, you can get the general picture – and it ain’t pretty.

If you’re the kind of person who finds those segments on people getting wrecked on America’s Funniest Home Videos, this info is for you. And if that form of entertainment is beneath you, this data at least delivers a pretty good cautionary tale. To keep all of you from bawling your eyes out, I’ll avoid focusing on injuries of the very young and very old, though I should warn grandmothers to watch out for little kids throwing cellphones at you, as there were at least two grammas who visited the ER after being struck.

Looking at other demographics, 220 male patients are listed vs. 303 females. Nearly half of the patients were 25 year old or younger and about 20% were 65 years old or older.

BEWARE PEDTEXTRIANS

More than 40 of the injuries reported had to do with people fussing with their phones in the car. And while texting and other phone-related driving distractions are a huge issue, so too is distracted walk/running/cycling.

"While distracted driving accidents are definitely the far more common of the two, the latter has been underreported and under-studied," says Chris Price, a partner at personal injury law firm Ashton & Price

"Something that I think pretty aptly sums up the current situation with cellphone use is that Steven Wozniak, who developed the first Apple computer, stated in a recent interview that 'When we started Apple, Steve Jobs and I talked about how we wanted to make blind people as equal and capable as sighted people, and you'd have to say we succeeded when you look at all the people walking down the sidewalk looking down at something in their hands and totally oblivious to everything around them!'"

To Price's earlier point, there actually has been serious research conducted on the dangers of walking while texting, a combo that can lead to falls and worse, such as getting hit by a moving vehicle. Researchers at The Ohio State University found in 2013, for example, that the number of injuries among pedestrians distracted by cellphones doubled between 2005 and 2010 and published their work in a journal dubbed Accident Analysis and Prevention.

MORE NETWORK WORLD DATA JOURNALISM: Wi-Fi hotspot blocking persists despite FCC crackdown

Among the injuries reported to NEISS in the 2014 data we examined: a relatively lucky 18-year-old male, crossing the street and not paying attention while talking on his phone, who suffered hand and hip bruises after being struck by a motor vehicle. Another: a 47-year-old male tripped and fell while texting, breaking his face and sunglasses.

Some cellphone users didn’t even need to be walking to get hurt. One 33-year-old male “was on the cellphone, became excited and fell (knee pain).”

smartphone injuries data NETWORKWORLD/STEPHEN SAUER

SHATTERED BY CELLPHONE GLASS

Despite the advent of industrial strength Gorilla Glass and other stronger display materials, people still wind up with glass shards in their eyes after dropping their phones. More than a dozen injuries reported involved cuts or abrasions from phone glass.

One 32-year-old man suffered a corneal abrasion suspected to be from small piece of glass (from a broken cellphone) that had been in his eye for a week or so. A 37-year-old female fell and broke her phone, cutting her thumb on the glass.

SHOCKING NEWS ABOUT CELLPHONES

We found 14 incidents involving people being shocked by their phones, including one 31-year-old male who was speaking on a landline phone when lightning struck the house and went through the phone into his arm.

Most of the injuries involved charging cellphones, though a couple of people got zapped when putting cellphones in their mouths. One child did this and got electric

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