Canada’s family doctors are being asked to advise their patients to stop using mobiles while driving and to stop doing it themselves. Although there is growing awareness about the increased risk of accidents, many still do it, says a recent article in the journal Canadian Family Physician. The article is called “Fatal Distraction.”
Speaking on a cellphone while driving increases the risk of collision by four to six times according to studies. Texting increases the risk up to 23 times. Road accidents are the leading cause of death for Canadians under the age of 34.
At any given time one in 20 Canadians is using a cellphone while driving. Four out of five teenagers do it.
Doctors do it too, says the article’s co-author Dr. Victoria Lee, a family medicine resident at the University of Alberta in western Canada. Lee says they need to stop, set an example and use their unique positions to bring up the issue with their patients during their medical check-ups.
Hands-free no better
Speaking on a cell phone is illegal in many Canadian provinces, but some allow hands-free devices. “These bans mislead the public and encourage them to trade one dangerous habit for another equally dangerous one,” says the article.
Less risky is speaking with a passenger in the car, explains Lee. In those situations the conversation ebbs and flows as both the driver and passenger take in the road conditions and acknowledge the need to pay attention to them. The same is not true of the person on the other end of the cell phone who will keep on talking and expecting responses unaware of the traffic situation.
“Turn off the phone”
Once patients are convinced of the risk of cell phone use while driving, Lee suggests doctors give them concrete strategies to avoid the practice. These include turning off a cell phone when getting into a car, setting up a voice mail system that lets callers know you might be driving, asking passengers to take calls, and if a call is unavoidable, pulling over. She also suggests not calling people when you know they are driving.
“I think there’s a lot that we can do from individual counselling to larger, broad scale things like legislation changes and policy changes, said Lee. “I think we’re at the cusp of what I think could be an epidemiological disaster because it’s such a prevalent problem and it’s such a huge risk.”