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Texting while driving, a medical matter?

(By Richard A. Lipski -- Washington Post)

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.

What's your take on this? Please make your voice heard by voting in today's poll.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health , Prevention  
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Like seatbelts, drunk driving and smoking (to name a few) this is most definitely a public health issue.

The accidents caused by morons talking/texting are preventable. Imagine you go to a hospital emergency room and the doctor cannot see you immediately because he is busy saving the life of someone who was in an accident caused by a moron talking on a cell phone. How would you feel? And the cost to all of us in the form of increased insurance premiums.

Frankly, if I see a driver talking or texting, I get the hell out of the way because i know the driver cannot be paying attention. And if I see a car moving around in a traffic lane, I am not surprised to see the driver on the phone.

Wake up people. When you are driving, that is ALL you should be doing.

Posted by: dytigaff | June 10, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

I vote No, but not because there is no medical concern or public health risk. My vote is based on the overwhelming amount of bullying I get from physicians already. If you do have a bad habit (smoking, overeating, watching TV, drinking too much beer), you know you should do something about it. Society is down on you and most likely you are down on yourself. Getting harassed each time you go in for a physical will merely result in people lying or not going to physicals to avoid the harassment.

Posted by: dubicki | June 10, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Unless you're talking about a psychiatrist as physician and the person has a compulsive disorder of some kind, I don't think there's really a point.

People ignore the advice of their internist/GP all the time. All it will do is annoy patients to have their doctor lecture them about cell phone usage during driving. And I'm saying that as one of those 19% who don't use their cell phone while driving (working in an ER for a while does wonders to send that message home).

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 10, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I vote yes. If the doctor presents it as information, while talking about other easy lifestyle changes that have a big impact (sunscreen, vaccinations) people might take it more seriously from their doctor than from Oprah. It doesn't have to feel like a lecture.

Posted by: drl97 | June 10, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Ahhh yes, the DOCTOR should do something about this...
Excuse my sarcasm, you see when you come into my office with a sore throat I will first have to annotate the chart that I have lectured you on; weight loss, locking up guns in the house, wearing your seat belt, safe sex, spouse abuse, child abuse, granny bashing, school bullies, watching porn on the internet, downloading copyrighted movies and songs, not feeding your baby chips of lead paint, and drinking 8 glasses of water a day...
So our 20 minutes is up and you will have to make another appointment about your sore throat...

dr. o

Posted by: ad4hk2004 | June 10, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

If you feel like your doctor is "bullying" you to change your habits, take that as a sign you are SERIOUSLY endangering your health. Really.

If people are screaming at you to stop, maybe you should stop.

Posted by: kcx7 | June 10, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the DMV is better suited for it, but a poster at the doctor's office can't hurt.

I don't usually say this, but that Oprah episode on the subject really got to me. Those stories were heartbreaking and I didn't want to wind up being one of those people who killed someone when it was so avoidable. But I never once texted while driving, even before that. Nobody is so important they need to text while driving.

Posted by: sarahabc | June 10, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

It's always a good idea but for those who are a bit out of touch with how much time doctors have and a bit about what they already have on their plate, use the link below and watch a 4 minute trailer to see why doctors have no time and their stress levels and why we can't pour more on their shoulders, as putting this into a question for them to remember to ask may jeopardize something else more pertinent to your care being misssed.

In other words this is not a bad idea but use your own judgment on this and actually we should be responsible enough. The problem is that many who come up with more additional red tap and responsibilities for doctors don't know the whole story and many are non participants in their own healthcare.

I'm not a doctor but have consulted and spent a lot of time first hand helping many with Health IT issues to automate and take some of the time consuming issues off their hands and they have many.

Posted by: TheMedicalQuack | June 10, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

I can see why a Dr. would do that. They are the ones that have to patch up some fool that had an avoidable accident while talking or texting on a phone. After working on railroad tracks and having to pick up things and pieces after trains hit autos on railway crossings I tell everyone to look twice before they drive over a railway crossing. Investigating those crossing accidents was the worst and hardest part of my job and it still bothers me years later.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | June 10, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Our family doctor asks his patients if they drink and drive and texting by most counts is four times more dangerous than drinking and 'yes' - why wouldn't a doctor ask this question?

I also think that we can’t legislate our way out of this issue either. I just read that 72% of teens text daily - many text more than 3000 times a month. This issue is in its infancy and its not going away. I decided to do something about it after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver . Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens), I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple app for smartphones - low cost, no recurring fees. We can empower the individual and change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

Erik Wood, owner

Posted by: ErikWood | June 11, 2010 1:08 AM | Report abuse

Anyone seen txting-while-driving ought to be pulled from their car and summarily horsewhipped.

Violent, you say?

Less so than going head-on into oncoming traffic.

Posted by: thardman | June 11, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Why all the fuss about talking/texting while driving and NO ONE is commenting on parents distracted by children, people eating, changing the radio, etc.? Cell phone use is not a public health issue unless all other forms of distracted driving are, too.

Posted by: greencardigan | June 11, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

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