AMA meeting: Keep hands off the handhelds, drivers urged
■ Delegates said the use of cell phones and other devices while on the road distracts drivers and endangers public safety.
By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted Nov. 23, 2009
Houston -- A year after calling for a ban on driving while texting, the American Medical Association stepped up its attack on distracted driving. Any use of handheld devices while driving should be against the law, according to policy the AMA House of Delegates adopted at its Interim Meeting.
"We want your hands on the steering wheel," said AMA Board of Trustees member Edward L. Langston, MD, a Lafayette, Ind., family physician. "There's a growing body of data that's very definitive on the dangerous diversion of attention when using handheld devices. ... We're very supportive of legislation to deal with this."
The house is not seeking a ban on hands-free phone chatter behind the wheel, though studies have found that the cognitive distraction of holding a conversation -- not encumbered hands -- is what endangers drivers. Dr. Langston said that as more research on cell phones and driving emerges, the AMA may revisit its position.
Delegates said the use of cell phones and other devices on the road is getting out of hand and endangering drivers and others.
"I drive about 500 miles a week, and I regularly see people texting and talking on two different devices simultaneously," said Richard Pieters Jr., MD, a radiation oncologist and delegate who spoke on behalf of the Massachusetts Medical Society. "It is a very serious public health problem."
No state bans hands-free cell phone use, but six states and the District of Columbia bar holding the phone while driving. Texting while driving is against the law in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Drivers are four times more likely to crash when talking on a cell phone than when they are not, studies have found.