Texting while driving, a medical matter?
We're accustomed to our physicians quizzing us at our annual checkups (we all get those, right?) about our alcohol, drug and tobacco use, whether we wear sunscreen and buckle our seat belts. Should the doc also ask whether we use our cell phones while driving?
Amy Ship, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, thinks so.
Writing in the June 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Ship suggests that driving while distracted by texting or talking on phones has become a major public-health issue, one doctors should get in the middle of. She says she already questions her patients about the matter and thinks all primary-care physicians should do the same.
According to the study, more than 275 million Americans own cell phones and 81 percent of them talk on those phones while driving. But it's hard to suss out the extent to which distracted driving increases collision risk, Ship says. She cites one study showing talking --on a cell phone or otherwise -- quadruples that risk and another showing that texting while driving makes the driver 23 times more likely to crash. (This British public service announcement about texting while driving, released last summer and cited in the study, is extremely violent and disturbing.)
But the hard numbers that do exist are alarming: "Current data suggest that each year, at least 1.6 million traffic accidents (28 percent of all crashes) in the United States are caused by drivers talking on cell phones or texting," the study says.
I detest seeing people talk or text while driving, and I wish I knew what to do about it. Many jurisdictions have outlawed the practice, but it's not clear that the fear of a ticket keeps many people from indulging their bad habit.
I suppose I wouldn't mind if my doctor raised the matter, but I wouldn't want to have to spend much of an office visit talking about it.
Beyond that, Ship herself notes that there's little hard evidence that physicians' asking about smoking, drinking and other risky behaviors makes any difference in patients' behaviors, anyway. If that's the case, then why bother adding another useless question to the list? Ship thinks it's simply what doctors should do, just because.
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