Minnesota doctors condemn drivers’ use of cell phones

Mike Wereschagin
Staff Reporter
Minnesota doctors addressed the nationwide concern over the use of cellular telephones while driving Friday.
The Minnesota Medical Association, which represents about two-thirds of Minnesota doctors, condemned the practice in a resolution at their annual convention in Duluth.
“Cell-phone drivers are a public health problem,” Gene Kishel, a Virginia, Minn., physician, told The Associated Press.
Nicole Dilks, a University mechanical engineering junior, experienced firsthand what happens when drivers pay more attention to their phone than the road.
On Aug. 12, her minivan — with her two sons inside — slammed into a telephone pole while she reached for her ringing phone.
All three escaped serious injury because of their seat belts and air bags, but Dilks has not answered or made a call on her cell phone while driving since.
“I won’t even reach for a can of soda anymore,” Dilks said. “Taking my eyes off the road, even for just that one second … it changed everything else in the car.”
The medical association stopped short of calling for a ban on using a cell phone while driving, unlike other groups around the country.
From North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Washington state, cities and towns have passed legislation banning such cell phone use within city limits.
A USA Today poll conducted in July found that 49 percent of drivers favor a law that would force motorists to “hang up and drive,” as a popular bumper sticker says.
Nate Schmiechen, a Fairview-University Medical Center emergency room doctor, is against cell phone use by drivers but said he would not support a law banning it.
“I think making a law is going a bit far,” Schmiechen said. “Besides that, it would never get passed. Too many people use them. On my way to work this morning, I would say 30 percent of the drivers I passed were talking on cell phones.”
The convenience afforded by cell phones is enough to attract some unlikely users, he added.
“I know a lot of members of the MMA,” Schmiechen said. “And I know a lot of members of the MMA who answer their pagers on their cell phones in their cars.”
Schmiechen also cited a study done by the New England Journal of Medicine that found cell phone users were four times more likely to get into an accident than anyone else. What was surprising about the study, Schmiechen said, was that the statistics were no lower for those who used a hands-free kit for their phones.
Dilks said she would consider using her cell phone if she had such a kit. Until then, however, she will continue to pull off the road before she makes any more calls.
“It’s more inconvenient,” Dilks said, “but I’ve realized that convenience is not more important than my or my children’s safety.”