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Dangerous Distractions

Focus on Driving, Not Cell Phone to Stay Safe on the Roads

Using a cell phone while driving is to blame for more than 330,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths each year, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Maybe your cell phone (or smart phone) rings and you grope around in your purse or on the passenger seat trying to find it. Maybe you're having a heated conversation and aren't paying enough attention to the car that stops suddenly in front of you. Maybe you are trying to send a quick email or text to a friend saying you are running late.

Most of the finger pointing for text related car accidents has been at teenagers, but new research finds adults aren't always setting the best example. A study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that 47 percent of adults who text say they have sent or read a text while driving, compared to 34 percent of teens who text behind the wheel.

Distracted driving is a problem that needs to be addressed not just by legislators and traffic officers, but also by primary care physicians, says Amy Ship, MD, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"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," Dr. Ship writes in the June 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. "It's time for us to ask patients about driving and distraction."

Dr. Ship uses a simple analogy to put the importance of staying focused on the road into perspective - imagine a surgeon talking on the phone while trying to remove your appendix. She makes a point to ask all her patients about their cell phone habits behind the wheel and encourages other primary care physicians to do the same.

"Primary care doctors are uniquely positioned to teach and influence patients: we should not squander that power," says Dr. Ship. "A question about driving and distraction is as central to the preventive care 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."

Learn more

7 Easy Ways To Stay Better Focused Behind the Wheel >>
Dr. Amy Ship's Research >>

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted July 2010

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General Medicine and Primary Care
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Carl J. Shapiro Clinical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215