Primary Care Doctor Calls on Colleagues to Discuss Distracted Driving with Patients


Amy Ship, MD, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is calling on colleagues to talk to patients about driving while distracted in a perspective article in the June 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Ship points out primary care physicians already make a point of asking patients about other safe habit practices that reduce potential harm to the patient and/or society: use of helmets, seat belts, cigarettes, condoms, drugs and alcohol.

The problem of distracted driving has risen to the rough equivalence of drunken driving thanks to the proliferation of phones that allow drivers to talk and text.

While absolute risk of distracted driving is difficult to assess, Dr. Ship points out that one one study has shown that talking on a cell phone while driving poses a risk four times that faced by undistracted drivers and is on par with that of driving while intoxicated.


She cites another study which showed that texting while driving might confer a risk of collision 23 times that of driving while undistracted.

While true that cell phones are not the only source of distractions to drivers, more than 275 million Americans own cell phones, and 81% of them talk on those phones while driving. Current data shows 28% of all accidents in the United States are caused by drivers talking on cell phones or texting. Using a hands-free device does not make talking on the phone any safer.

So Dr. Ship is calling on physicians to begin discussing distracted driving with patients as part of preventive care. She has added this discussion, questioning her patients annually on this issue.

When she encounters a serious 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?"

Dr. Ship is calling on physicians, especially primary care physicians, whom she feels are uniquely positioned to teach and influence patients about driving and distraction.

The Most Primary of Care — Talking about Driving and Distraction; NEJM, Vol 362:2145-2147, June 10, 2010; Amy N. Ship, M.D.