Every day, at least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted-driving crashes. This is an epidemic, and one that can be ended.
Last year, the Medical Association of Atlanta joined with a coalition of advocates to fight this epidemic. The coalition included physicians across the state, as well as loved ones of those injured or killed in distracted-driving accidents. After gathering support, and educating members of the Georgia General Assembly, the coalition was successful. The Hands-Free Georgia Act was passed into law, and it went into effect last June.
Early studies of the law indicated it had a significant effect, with a study by TrueMotion showing a 21 percent decrease in distracted driving immediately after the bill passed. Unfortunately, a more recent study suggests there is still work to be done. Many people in Georgia continue to put their lives at risk just for the sake of using their cellphones.
According to the 2019 AAA Consumer Pulse Survey, 77 percent of Georgians are aware that motorists are prohibited from using handheld cellphones while driving. More than 80 percent think it is dangerous for someone who is driving to use text or email.
However, more than 60 percent of people surveyed say they still see motorists texting or emailing behind the wheel.
The physicians of the Medical Association of Atlanta want to do more. Part of the practice of medicine is to educate patients about healthy lifestyle choices that will help them avoid negative outcomes and will also improve the health of the community. We have cared for patients and families whose lives have been dramatically altered by accidents caused by people using their digital devices instead of paying attention to the road.
Just as we were in the forefront of pushing for seat belt legislation to increase driving safety in the past, we now are committed to continuing efforts to combat distracted driving. We are working with the Medical Association of Georgia to make this work a priority nationwide, by pushing for national initiatives from both the American Medical Association and the CDC.
We need the attention of health care leaders, and we need the help of every driver on the road to combat this epidemic.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of Hands-Free Georgia being implemented, it is important to remember some key facts.
The Hands-Free Georgia Act prohibits motorists from holding cellphones or other wireless devices or supporting them with any part of their body. People are not permitted to “write, send or read” text messages or emails while driving. The law does allow all drivers – teenagers and adults alike – to use phones and other voice devices while driving if this is done through hands-free technology.
The next time you start your vehicle, please remember: Drivers who text are up to eight times more likely to be involved in a crash. Sending or reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for about five seconds, long enough to cover a football field while driving at 55 mph, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And a driver simply talking on a cellphone is up to four times more likely to be involved in a crash.
A quick glance at a phone while you are driving could change a life forever. Why not take care of yourself and put your phone away when you are behind the wheel? After all, it’s the law.
Dr. Martha Wilber is president of the Medical Association of Atlanta, an organization established in 1854. She is also a physician with Kaiser Permanente.