Driving while distracted is a primary-care issue

Jun 09, 2010

It's time for physicians to talk to patients about driving while distracted, a problem that has risen to the rough equivalence of drunken driving thanks to the proliferation of phones that allow drivers to talk and text, Amy Ship, MD, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests.

Writing in the June 10 issue of the , Ship notes physicians routinely ask patients about habits associated with potential harm like the use of helmets, seatbelts, cigarettes, condoms, drugs and alcohol. And with data showing 28 percent of all accidents in the United States are caused by drivers talking on cell phones or texting, it's time to step into this issue too.

"When a doctor raises an issue while providing overall preventive care, the message is different from that conveyed by a public service announcement nestled between ads for chips and beer or a printed warning on a product box," she writes. "It's time for us to ask patients about and ."

While the absolute increase in the risk of collision attributable to distracted drivers is hard to assess, Ship says one study showed talking and driving posed a four time greater risk than undistracted driving. A second study suggested texting raised the risk of collision by a factor of 23.

"More than 275 million Americans own cell phones and 81 percent of them talk on those phones while driving. The adverse consequences have reached epidemic proportions."

Ship acknowledges that while there is little solid evidence that screening questions about drugs, alcohol smoking and other risks have any benefit, that fact has never stopped clinicians from making inquiries.

"As our technology evolves, our questions must be updated in keeping with the risks," she says.

In her own practice, where Ship queries all her patients annually on this issue, she occasionally encounters patients who wonder why talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device, is more dangerous than talking to a passenger.

"First is the obvious risk associated with trying to maneuver a phone, but cognitive studies have also shown that we are unable to multitask and that neurons are diverted differently depending on whether we are talking on a phone or talking to a passenger," she says.

But for the ultimate skeptic, Ship has a ready response:

"How would you feel if the surgeon removing your appendix talked on the phone - hands-free of course - while operating?"

Ultimately, Ship says, clinicians have an obligation to adapt to societal changes and update their model of preventive care.

" doctors are uniquely positioned to teach and influence patients: we should not squander that power. A question about driving and distraction is as central to the we provide as the other questions we ask. Not to ask - and not to educate our patients and reduce their risk - is to place in harm's way those we hope to heal."

Explore further: Experts call for higher exam pass marks to close performance gap between international and UK medical graduates

Provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Drivers ignore the risk of mobile phone use

Dec 11, 2006

A George Institute road safety study has revealed an alarmingly high rate of mobile phone use amongst Australian drivers. Published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week, the survey conducted in NSW and WA found ...

Texting increases crash risk 23 times: study

Jul 28, 2009

Text messaging behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or a near crash by 23 times, and is far more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving, according to a report released Tuesday.

Driver safety Web site from Car Talk, U of Utah

Mar 22, 2010

NPR's Car Talk guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, may be a couple of motor mouths, but they always put a lid on using cell phones behind the wheel. The perennial jokesters confirm their serious commitment to addressing ...

Administration takes aim at distracted driving

Sep 30, 2009

(AP) -- Driving while distracted is a growing peril in a nation reluctant to put down its cell phones and handheld devices even behind the wheel, the Obama administration declared on Wednesday. Officials said Congress and ...

Recommended for you

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...