In a case of multitasking gone horribly wrong, plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan was apparently sending out a tweet before his car fell off a cliff Monday. The surgeon, best known for performing several surgeries on “The Hills” starlet Heidi Montag, was apparently typing about his border collie before his Jeep Wrangler plummeted from Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway.
The accident demonstrates the very real danger of texting or tweeting while driving, an activity that has reportedly spiked in recent years.
“I hear, almost daily, accounts of people who are injured while texting,” said Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Gardner, who is also an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, told MTV News that sometimes, linking an accident to texting is difficult if the phone is destroyed or tossed from the scene of the incident. However, Gardner did say texting-related accidents are becoming commonplace.
“[There is] definitely an uptick and a noticeable one,” she said. “It has stopped being an oddity when we hear that someone was texting and has a wreck. Now it’s more of a fairly common occurrence.”
While sending out a status update during a leisurely drive may seem innocuous, Gardner said it only takes a moment for distracted drivers to become vulnerable.
“There’s two things [that can lead to accidents]: The obvious one is that one hand is off the wheel if you’re holding a phone. The other thing is that, as fast or as good as you are at texting, it still takes that microsecond of looking away from the road, and that microsecond is when accidents occur,” Gardner said. “The theory is that people look away for a minute, and then they realize the car is going off the road, and they jerk the car back. It’s the compensation movement that can cause a car to roll over.”
Several states have laws in place curtailing cell phone use while driving, and many, including, California where Ryan died, have outright bans on texting while on the road. A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute revealed that truck drivers were more than 20 times as likely to be involved in a crash while texting. The study indicated that sending messages in particular was significantly more dangerous than dialing or talking on the phone.
“People don’t realize — and it’s not just young people, it’s everyone with a cell phone — that moment that you look away from your phone is the moment it could take to have a wreck,” Gardner said. Gardner noted that people often have an “irresistible urge” to respond to a text or tweet but offered a straightforward suggestion for drivers who feel tempted to type while still on the road. “My advice is put the phone away,” Gardner said. “Put it in your pocket, put it in your purse. Put it away until you’re done with your trip.”