Should physicians urge their patients not to text and drive? A group of family doctors from the University of Alberta thinks so, and is encouraging doctors — who regularly counsel patients about medical risks associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and smoking — to add texting and driving to that list.
Citing statistics showing texting or talking on a cellphone while driving raises the risk of collision by four to six times — comparable to getting behind the wheel while under the influence — the Alberta doctors argue that physicians should play a key role in educating the public about the risks.
"Unfortunately, while most drivers view cellphone use as driving as unacceptable, many of them still engage in it."
Lee, who co-wrote the article with pediatrics resident Chantelle Champagne and professor Louis Hugo Francescutti, contended that physicians have a role in educating patients about the hazards of talking while behind the wheel.
"Once patients are convinced of the risks of cellphone use while driving, help to prevent them from developing the habit or help them change their behavior," Lee said, listing the following advice for drivers:
- Turn off your cellphone when you enter your vehicle or switch it to silent mode and put it somewhere you cannot reach it.
- Set up caller ID and a reliable voice mail system that lets callers know you might be driving and will return their call at a later time.
- Ask passengers to help by operating cellphones and other electronic devices. If you are the passenger, speak up and offer to help.
- If you need to make an important call, pull over and park in a safe location before reaching for your cellphone.
- Do not call your friends, co-workers, clients, or family when you know they are driving.
"Patients regard [doctors] as community leaders and experts in health and safety," Lee said. "We are in a unique position to influence the thoughts and behavior of people regarding their overall health and well-being by educating them about the issue of distracted driving."
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