Texting While Driving or Your Life, It's Not ALARA

March 22, 2013

Texting while driving causes far more deaths than medical radiation ever will. We should demand a similar level of vigilance against this deadly habit.

I don't know about the rest of you but I am getting sick and tired of radiology being constantly targeted as the "bad boy" because we work with disease-discovering and life-saving technologies that deliver ionizing radiation.

People are constantly discussing relative risk, life-long exposure, radiation limits, etc. This is not to say that these discussions are not important, but realistically those of us in radiology have limited ability to change or reduce orders for many of these examinations. And few of us actually order or recommend many of these studies.

We all need to keep things in their proper perspective and remember that almost always the reason for the exam is that a doctor thinks any given radiology test could make a diagnosis or potentially save a life.

For instance, consider the NBC Nightly News story that just reported, "More numbers from the CDC: Most Americans now admit to talking on their cell phones while driving. A third of us admit to texting or e-mailing while at the wheel."

What is the relative risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident caused by a distracted texting driver while either party is driving to an imaging center or to hospital emergency room? I'd wager it is exponentially higher than the risk from any imaging examination. And yet, where is the public outcry against any form of texting while driving?

All those in radiology are familiar with the term "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" (ALARA). What the public doesn't realize is that we in radiology work tirelessly (usually unrecognized) to keep radiation levels as low as possible all the time.

Why don't the public and the media demand a similar level of vigilance against texting while driving? With texting, it should not be as low as reasonably achievable. It should be zero tolerance. One stray texting episode can snuff out multiple lives, including those who were not texting but are just as dead, killed by an insensitive distracted texting driver.

This problem can be specifically attacked through two different approaches. First would be stronger laws that forbid texting while driving. The other is vigorous laws that target and punish texting drivers who cause accidents. State and federal legislators, law enforcement agencies, judges and juries need to wake up and get on board to eliminate this threat that is far more serious to the health of all Americans than the risk of medically delivered radiation.

I applaud media ads, particularly through television, that are beginning to raise public awareness of this increasing problem. What the public isn't aware of is that texting while driving causes far more deaths than medical radiation ever will.

In medicine, we are constantly looking out for the well-being of our patients. The media, mainstream America and organized medicine, especially radiology, need to re-double our efforts to further amplify the dangers of this deadly habit that is self-admitted by so many Americans.