Monday, February 02, 2009

Someone make me stop!

No, I am not asking the SEIU to have me stop writing about its use of corporate campaigns or its desire to eliminate secret ballot elections. No, I am not asking other hospitals in Boston to have me stop writing about transparency and reducing patient harm.

I am asking someone to make me stop talking on my cell phone while driving. I will admit that I am Jessica Lipnack's "one friend". I know the evidence is overwhelming that people are distracted and even have a lower effective IQ when talking on a cell phone while driving.

I remember a Boston Coach limo driver telling me that they are trained to look in their rear-view mirrors to see if the driver behind is on a cell phone. If so, they take extra precautions to avoid be rear-ended by the distracted driver. He said, "It our major cause of accidents."

But the Boston Globe editorial writers have it wrong when they say: "Cellphone use at the wheel is almost an addiction." Not almost. Is.

I do not use the phone because the business or personal purpose is urgent. In fact, just the opposite. I usually do it to fill the time.

I am reminded of teenagers I see in the mall or walking along the street who can not abide the thought of having quiet time in their head. They have to fill the void by calling their friends. Me, too.

I've tried turning on the car radio and listening to music. But it soon goes into the background. Ditto for the news. After all, it is pretty much the same thing all the time. So, let's use the "spare time" to catch up with friends or with staff members, just to check in or to say something I forgot to mention last time we were together.

If you are a friend or colleague who detects that I am talking with you on a mobile phone while driving, please hang up on me.

But we need more than that. Please, Governor Patrick and MA legislators. Pass a law with real penalties. Catch me in the act, and make me stop. And, while you are at it, stop everyone else, too.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my pet peeves. You could kill someone else rather than yourself. (Remember I used to work with dead people.) Put the phone where you cannot reach it before getting into the driver's seat.


Ileana said...

LOL, this is too funny... oh, the problems that other people have!

If you want lessons on not speaking on the phone just call me... I could never have too much time with myself (big surprise there!)

Anonymous said...

Finally a Foible! :)

It's worked so well with the war on drugs-Just Say No!

PJ Geraghty said...

If it's not cell phones, it will be something else. Please don't penalize the many for the actions/foolishness of the few. Eating, changing the radio, yelling at children...all contribute to their fair share of crashes. Shall we outlaw these as well?

Anonymous said...

"Please don't penalize the many for the actions/foolishness of the few."

I think you have this backwards. This would penalize the few for the actions/foolishness of the many. Most people on thier cell phones, whether its in the car, the bus, the supermarket, you name it they are oblivious to what is going on around them. I have witnessed three rear end accidents on the expressway over the last few months in rush hour traffic and the person who initiated the accident in every incident was on the phone. I think they see the car next to them move so they move even though their lane is standing still. I have seen too many people run through lights. They weren't trying to beat the light, they had no idea the light had even changed. And then there are the people getting on to highways who can seem to be bothered to see if there is traffic in the lane they are entering. Its up to those already on the highway to yield to them.
And like the limo driver mentioned by Paul, I always look in my rear view mirror for the yakers (sp).
I could go on and on...

Anonymous said...

Switch it off. Otherwise you will kill someone.

jessica lipnack said...

As the aforementioned person with only "one friend," I've had quite a reaction to my post both on my blog and on Facebook. So to convince another friend (that makes two), I posted a list of readily available research, PJ, indicating that indeed driving-while-phoning is dangerous. (And, Judy, some would agree that there might just be more than one foible :)

LA Times report on 2005 U of Utah study:,0,3192911.story

AAA study, Dec 2008:

VA Tech and Natl Highway Traffic Safety Admin, 2005:

British Med Journal study of Australian drivers, 2005, reported in NY Times:

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:24,

Off is not an option. Need to be reachable for emergencies.

Anonymous said...

Are you really that critical a cog that minute by minute access is needed? If you don't respond for a period, will your world really come crashing down. No one is indispensable and using the mobile phone whilst driving will perhaps prove that one day. But that may come at the cost of crashing someone else's world.

The UK has the lowest road traffic accident rates in the world, and we continue to focus on improving the rate. The link below illustrates the law.

There is plenty of data to show that even a hands free kit delays reaction times significantly.

Deal with calls at the end of a journey or pull into a lay-by. That is the very least a responsible road user would expect.

A perspective - to whom are you really indispensable. And then imagine if you survived but someone else didn't. Now try living with that.

PJ Geraghty said...

'Off' is not an option for me, either, for the same reason as Paul.

My experience, anecdotal though it may be, is that the radio is a much bigger risk, especially for teenagers. The classic example is a teenager who goes to adjust the radio (get a new CD, change he station, switch tracks on an mp3 player, etc.) and drifts off the road onto the right shoulder. Hearing the change, he/she (it's universal) panics and overcorrects, steering the car back up onto the road and into oncoming traffic. Eating while driving causes similar difficulties.

I don't dispute that driving while on the phone increases risk. But it's not the only activity that does's just the popular scapegoat right now. Until we're willing to eliminate all distractions in the car (eating, radios, conversation, navigation systems, etc.) I don't think it's fair to single out this one.

I spend a considerable amount of time on the road in the Phoenix metro area, including some time on a motorcycle (where my paranoia level is dramatically escalated). I also work with crash victims and families all too often. I've not had the experience of scores of people being distracted while talking on phones.

For the record, I do think there should be laws against sending text messages while driving...this requires you to take your eyes off the road for relatively extended period and is, in my experience, substantially more dangerous than voice communication. Phoenix does have a law about this, based on at least one fatal accident resulting from texting while driving.

Anonymous said...


It would be interesting to see how many people come into your ED who have been in a MVA while on a cell or by someone on a cell. I'm not sure if you gather that kind of information, but it might be eye opening.

Anonymous said...

Re: Off is not an option. Need to be reachable for emergencies

Are you driving someplace where you can't pull over within a few minutes? (What sort of emergency?)

If you can pull over within a few minutes (can't think of many places where you can't) put the phone in the back seat, out of reach. (And no, don't reach back to get it when it rings!) When it rings you can find a safe place to stop & call the person back.

Otherwise, one of these days you'll probably be making a call for your own traffic accident emergency.

Jay Levitt said...

Maybe what we need is a mode between "on" and "off", like airplane mode on the iPhone: Driving mode.

I doubt Paul needs to be reachable within 60 seconds. I would believe that he needs to be reachable in less time than his longest car trip - and that having to turn the phone off and on at stoplights would be prohibitively annoying.

I don't know if texting vs. talking vs. reading vs. changing the radio has been studied, but I'll bet there's a "sweet spot" of brief attention. Maybe long enough to read a text. Maybe not, though - I seem to remember "two seconds" being over the line already. Perhaps you could press a button to have it read to you.

Either way, "driving mode" would be limited to hearing the voicemail alert, listening to texts, and maybe pressing one-button responses (yes/no, "I'm late", etc.). With phones like the iPhone, it could be smart, and use the accelerometer - if you're moving more than 5mph, you're driving.

Anonymous said...

Don't "deny the facts, be guided by them"

the man from Utz said...

Even worse than talking on the cell phone is texting! this seems to be the "Work around" in places where cell phone use while driving is illegal. Both mind and eyes off the road. Neither the police, nor your Boston Coach driver can tell!

Anonymous said...

Have you considered bluetooth?

They've made both talking and texting on cell phones illegal in California, which is wonderful, but I don't know if it's really stopped people. However, they do claim that hands-free devices help the situation.

Alternatively, maybe a lesson in willpower? Or not driving so much at all? When did people stop THINKING?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to second the suggestion by HangUpthePhone - put it truly out of reach - under the passenger seat from the back - so that you can hear it but not reach it right away. Pull over, then respond to the call. Let the folks who would legitimately be calling you in an emergency know of your new strategy and commitment to safety for yourself and everyone else. As long as the folks who would call in an emergency know there will be a 5 minute delay in getting a response from you, I think this plan will work.
An added advantage is that sometimes slowing down a response just a bit helps to create a more thoughtful response, or the situation may shift even in the five minutes of waiting for a callback from you, in a way that makes the correct response more obvious.
My work involves driving, and I do not use my cell phone when my car is in motion. Used to do it a bit, had a couple of scares, and decided nothing is worth an accident.
Good luck making a change for safety.

Adam Gobin said...

What's really sad is that i manage to still txt AND send emails while driving...even worse in my opinion!!! Bad habit!!!

John said...

You are very honest in confessing this bad habit, Paul. Habits are hard to break, but not impossible. All the best in changing this habit, for the good of other drivers on the road.

Lachlan Forrow, MD, FACP said...

As with lots of other things, one answer here is our children. If you had a young child in the car watching you (or one day grandchildren), you'd know you had the stark choice of either not answering the phone until you pulled over or basically guaranteeing that they themselves will use their cellphones when they drive. I bet you'll care enough more about their safety than you do about your own that you'd stop.

But you're not going to have kids in the car with you enough for this to work. So find one you love and want to live up to, look them in the eye and promise you are never going to talk on your cellphone in the car again, and ask them to ask you each time they see you whether or not you broke your promise.

If you don't want to do this, then you don't REALLY want to stop, and nothing is going to work. For sure a law isn't going to help -- even if you get pulled over you are going to try to explain to the officer that it was such an important emergency and you are such an important person that you really HAD to be on the call. But maybe if the TAB then prints your photo with a headline "Hospital CEO Recklessly Endangers Lives; Thinks His Own Importance Greater Than Lives of Others" will finally work.

Good luck.


PS: Of course, when I need to reach my wife it's always so important that I count on her answering, even if she's driving somewhere. And I drive so well that of course MY danger to others isn't an issue...

Anonymous said...

forget about SEI! and no talking on the cell phone unless, of course, you're coming up with a miracle in this economy to save everyones jobs at BIDMC!