Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Cell Phone Distraction Can Contribute to Pediatric Drowning

August 23, 2018

We know that distracted driving is prevalent among all drivers, including teens and parents with children in the vehicle. We also know that these distractions can result in crashes and injuries for occupants. However, there is some recent evidence demonstrating that distractions, namely from cell phone use, can contribute to another highly prevalent childhood injury: drowning. 

The German Lifeguard Association recently issued a warning to adults about the hazard of being on their mobile phones while supervising their children around water. This distraction impairs their ability to keep tabs on their kids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 900 fatal drownings to children and adolescents in the US each year. Drowning is also the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14 years, and the leading cause of death in children 1 to 4 years.

Prior evidence shows that parents who should be supervising their children in various settings (such as at a playground) are often distracted by mobile phones. Similarly, parents whose children have completed swimming lessons are often complacent and believe that active supervision is less necessary.

Unfortunately, drowning is often very fast and very silent. It only takes seconds for a child to submerge, and a child typically does not splash or cry for help. A good suggestion when going with a group of adults to a pool, lake, or ocean, particularly when there is no lifeguard present, is to have a designated water watcher (similar to a designated driver) whose sole responsibility is to, without distractions, supervise children while swimming.

Although summer is winding down, there are millions of natural and human-made bodies of water in the US and significant opportunities for children to swim throughout the year. Distraction-related injuries and deaths to children are completely preventable not just on the road, but while swimming in a pool, lake, or the ocean.

For more information about water safety and water competency, visit the CHOP Safety Center and Water Safety USA.

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