By Stephanie Bonne
As a trauma surgeon, my main academic interest has been injury prevention. It just makes sense to me – the easiest trauma to recover from is the one that never happened to begin with. This takes on many forms, from violence prevention to safety, to addressing the problems at the intersection of poverty, education, and injury.
As part of this mission, I have occasional speaking engagements in the community. Last year, I was asked to speak at my state’s highway safety coalition meeting about distracted driving. I prepared a powerpoint full of statistics and videos, and stood in front of several hundred people, emphasizing the dangers of distracted driving and how important it was for everyone to spread the word.
But like most physicians, I was terrible about practicing what I was preaching. It started with checking text messages at stop lights, but got worse from there. A glance from the road to my screen when I was driving to see who just texted me, a quick check of my inbox to make sure it wasn’t anything urgent. Pretty soon I was writing full emails while sitting in stopped, or sometimes not-so-stopped, traffic.
And then it happened. I was about a mile from home, coming back from a quick run to the store. Sitting at a stoplight, I was looking at an email my assistant had sent. It seemed like something kind of important, like I might need to call her, and I was trying to finish reading when the light turned and I rolled into the intersection. A block later, lights and sirens behind me.
“Officer, I’m not sure what I did.” I rushed through the last 5 minutes in my mind. I know I wasn’t speeding. Was my taillight out? Had the light turned from yellow to red as I was going through the intersection? It occurred to me that I didn’t really know if the light had changed, because I wasn’t paying attention. How terrifying.
“You were texting and driving. I don’t usually pull people over for this, but you were not even looking at the road. I’ll let you off with a warning.” He glanced at the empty car seats in my back seat. “Don’t you dare do this with the kids in the car.”
How embarrassing. In one experience I was, sanctimoniously standing in front of hundreds of concerned citizens, and in another I was so distracted I actually got pulled over. When I told the officer that I was a trauma surgeon, he commiserated. Yes, he said. Sometimes he texts and drives too. And then he sees someone like me and is reminded how very dangerous it is, and stops for awhile. But it creeps back in over time.
April is distracted driving awareness month, let’s all make the commitment to stop distracted driving. It can wait. If you feel the urge to reach for your phone – stop. Think of your family and your patients, or think of me and this ridiculous photo I’ve included below, with my ticket. Put your phone out of reach when you get in the car, if it’s that hard for you.
If it’s an emergency, use your Bluetooth technology and call, don’t text. While driving and talking on the phone is still dangerous, it’s not nearly as dangerous as texting. And don’t do the worst thing of all – voice recognition technology. Because proofreading the text you just recorded is the most dangerous form of texting and driving.
You are no good to your family or your patients if you are dead. It’s serious. Don’t do it.
Dr. Bonne is a board-certified general surgeon with additional training and certification in Surgical Critical Care. Her clinical interests are in trauma and injury prevention, trauma epidemiology, and infections in the surgical intensive care unit. She participates in the American College of Surgeons, the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, and the Society of Critical Care Medicine. She leads the American Medical Women’s Association Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Dr. Bonne is the current Communications Chair for the AWS, and also serves as the faculty advisor for the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School chapter. She is a wife and mother to three young children.
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