In the last issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Amy M. Ship, MD, argues that physicians are in a position to spot harmful behavior and influence patients simply by reminding them of the consequences.
Ship sometimes tells her patients that driving while distracted carries about the same risks as being drunk, and says that although people are more aware of the dangers of texting, calling while driving actually causes more accidents.
Although the estimates do vary depending on who’s consulted, Ship cites a National Safety Council study from May estimating that at least 1.6 million crashes—or 20 percent of all U.S. crashes—are caused each year by drivers using cellphones, of which 200,000 are due to text messaging. The numbers were calculated using National Highway Traffic Safety data showing that at any given time 11 percent of drivers are using cellphones and one percent are texting or performing other functions. Talking increases crash risk about four times, the report says, while texting increases it by up to 23 times.
Ship emphasizes that whether talking hands-free or not, the cognitive distraction of carrying on a conversation, like other activities like putting on a mascara or reading a map, increases the chance of an accident.
Speeding up, slowing down and weaving back and forth are all caused by texting
Meanwhile, the states continue to ramp up efforts to restrict the use of cellphones while driving. In Iowa, a new texting-while-driving ban goes into effect today.
So what do you think? Should doctors ask patients about texting and driving? Should they even be allowed to?