Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let's be safe: hang up and drive

by Jerry Soucy, RN

Being a hospice and palliative care provider is challenging, rewarding, and important. But is it safe?

I began to appreciate the answer while researching the topic to present in orientation. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health care workers face significant risks for serious illness, injury, and death.

Each risk deserves our attention. Let’s look at driving to and from the patients and families we visit, because automobile accidents are the leading cause of death in home health care workers.

Research conducted on behalf of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) found that in 2006 home care and hospice workers in the U.S. drove almost five billion miles to provide four hundred and twenty-eight million visits to nearly twelve million patients.

The study showed that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (God save it!), home care and hospice workers drove 77,737,289 miles to conduct 13,182,930 visits – an average of 6 miles per visit in this geographically small but densely-populated state.

That’s about the same as 162 roundtrips to the moon, or 80% of the distance between the earth and sun.

Consider your own windshield time in the course of a normal day. Better yet, think about how you drive during those trips, and what other tasks you try to accomplish behind the wheel.

Work by David Strayer and colleagues at the University of Utah  finds that driving while talking on a cell phone increases the risk of an accident at least four-fold, equivalent to the risk posed by drunk drivers.

What hospice clinician would even think about chugging a couple of beers between home visits?

The research also shows it makes no difference whether we hold our cell phones or use a ‘hands-free’ device. The problem has nothing to do with our hands, and everything to do with neuroscience. Driving a car is a complex cognitive task, even if most of us take it for granted. Our brains aren’t wired to do two such tasks at the same time. We can switch between them, but we can’t do both at the same time. In other words, multitasking is a myth.

More complex cell phone use like texting, checking email, or looking up a phone number poses an even greater hazard, because our attention is diverted for a sustained period. A lot can can happen in 130 feet - the distance we travel in just three seconds at only 30 miles per hour, a safe speed in a residential area.

3,328 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2012.  That’s a number. Learn the reality of three deaths in the brief video here.

The National Safety Council (NSC) suggests four simple ways to increase driving safety:

1. wear your seat belt
2. drive sober
3. focus on the road
4. drive defensively

The NSC has also designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month,  and has issued the Focused Driver Challenge.

I’ve taken the NSC pledge to drive cell-free. How about you? #CallsKill

We’re out there because we’re committed to helping patients and families live better lives in a difficult time. It’s frightening to contemplate how our actions behind the wheel could lead to sudden and traumatic loss for other families - perhaps even our own.

Jerry Soucy, RN, CHPN (jerry.soucy- at- has worked with patients and families facing end of life in critical care, hemodialysis, and hospice. He developed and presents “So you’re going to die…” an adult ed course on advance care planning and end of life inspired by an episode of The Simpson’s. He hopes to grow a 500-pound pumpkin this year.

More Helpful Links - the United States Department of Transportation site for distracted driving

David J. Hanson, PhD is professor emeritus of Sociology at State University of New York, Potsdam. He has conducted research on alcohol use for over 40 years, and curates ‘Alcohol Problems and Solutions,’  an excellent web resource that includes this piece comparing the risks of driving while drunk to texting.

Car and Driver Magazine - Texting while driving: How dangerous is it?

Worksafe BC video

Myth Busters explores the question: Is talking on a cell phone while driving as dangerous as driving drunk? (30 second commercial at start) 

David Strayer, ”Multitasking in the automobile,” the 2013 David Myers Distinguished Lecture on the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology at the 25th annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science

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