Texting While Driving: Does the New Law Work Among Healthcare Providers?

Anitha E. Mathew, MD, MPH; Debra Houry, MD, MPH; Christopher J. Dente, MD; Jeffrey P. Salomone, MD

Disclosures

Western J Emerg Med. ;15(5):604-608. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Introduction: This study assessed whether Georgia Senate Bill 360, a statewide law passed in August 2010, that prohibits text messaging while driving, resulted in a decrease in this behavior among emergency medicine (EM) and general surgery (GS) healthcare providers.

Methods: Using SurveyMonkey®, we created a web-based survey containing up to 28 multiple choice and free-text questions about driving behaviors. EM and GS healthcare providers at a southeastern medical school and its affiliate county hospital received an email inviting them to complete this survey in February 2011. We conducted all analyses in SPSS (version 19.0, Chicago, IL, 2010), using chi-squared tests and logistic regression models. The primary outcome of interest was a change in participant texting or emailing while driving after passage of the texting ban in Georgia.

Results: Two hundred and twenty-six providers completed the entire survey (response rate 46.8%). Participants ranged in age from 23 to 71 years, with an average age of 38 (SD=10.2; median=35). Only three-quarters of providers (n=173, 76.6%) were aware of a texting ban in the state. Out of these, 60 providers (36.6%) reported never or rarely sending texts while driving (0 to 2 times per year), and 30 engaged in this behavior almost daily (18.9%). Almost two-thirds of this group reported no change in texting while driving following passage of the texting ban (n=110, 68%), while 53 respondents texted less (31.8%). Respondents younger than 40 were more than twice as likely to report no change in texting post-ban compared to older participants (OR=2.31, p=0.014). Providers who had been pulled over for speeding in the previous 5 years were about 2.5 times as likely to not change their texting-while-driving behavior following legislation passage compared to those without a history of police stops for speeding (OR=2.55, p=0.011). Each additional ticket received in the past 5 years for a moving violation lessened the odds of reporting a decrease in texting by 45%. (OR=0.553, p=0.007).

Conclusion: EM and GS providers, particularly those who are younger, have received more tickets for moving violations, and with a history of police stops for speeding, exhibit limited compliance with distracted driving laws, despite first-hand exposure to the motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted driving.

Introduction

An estimated 25% of motor vehicle crashes in the United States are caused by distracted driving,[1] and fatalities from distracted driving increased by 28% from 2005 to 2008.[2] Novice and experienced drivers alike demonstrate decreases in driving performance while using phones,[3] often demonstrating similar levels of violations as those who are driving while intoxicated.[4] While 12% of people self-report texting while driving,[5] the increase in texting volumes between 2001 and 2007 has resulted in over 16,000 additional motor vehicle fatalities.[2] Drivers who text make an increased number of errors, such as responding more slowly to the onset of brake lights and impairment in forward and lateral driving control, sustaining more crashes than drivers who do not text.[6–9] Texting has been shown to be more dangerous than other forms of distracted driving, such as talking on the phone.[10]

To date, 39 states and the District of Columbia have enacted distracted driving laws, with several more considering adoption.[11–12] Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue approved the passage of a state law that effectively banned texting while driving, beginning in July 2010 However, this law's actual role in deterring texting behind the wheel is questionable at best, with no studies so far demonstrating a valid effect since the law's inception and very few citations issued since.

As first-hand witnesses to injuries and fatalities as a result of motor vehicle crashes, emergency medicine and general surgery physicians, mid-level providers and nurses are well aware of the bodily risks associated with distracted driving. Emergency medicine (EM) providers are critical to educating patients about the dangers of texting while driving, as they are often the first to treat victims of motor vehicle collisions that could be caused by distracted driving. Personal texting behavior likely has a significant correlation with patient counseling on similar behaviors, as previous studies have shown that physicians with poor personal health behaviors, such as tobacco or alcohol use, lack of exercise, and lower rates of seatbelt use, are less likely to counsel their patients about these health practices.[13] With the initiation of Georgia's ban on texting while driving, it is unclear whether this law will actually have its intended effect of decreasing the prevalence of texting behind the wheel, particularly among healthcare providers who are vital in providing counseling to at-risk patients.

The aim of this study was to evaluate if the passage of Georgia Senate Bill 360, which prohibits text messaging while driving, effectively decreased the incidence of texting while driving among emergency medicine and general surgery providers. Secondary aims were to determine if texting behavior varies with gender, age, time spent driving daily, position, occurrence of previous moving violations, texting and emailing frequency, and attitudes towards this behavior. We assessed survey responses for a change in self-reported texting while driving after the passage of the law.

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