Let Us Drive in Peace

11/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Peter Mehlman Television writer; Producer, Seinfeld; Host, Narrow World of Sports

First, drinking. Then talking on the phone. Then text messaging. You'd think the government would cut back on its probes into highway accident-causing activities, but ... no dice.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Board is now set to release a study claiming that undergoing reconstructive knee surgery while driving is "dicey at best."

At this time, the report doesn't reveal the annual number of accidents/deaths attributable to motorists having their knees operated on behind the wheel but it states that "even one is too many."

The testing, performed on 244 red-shirt college football players, concluded that reconstructive knee surgery performed on a motorist is equivalent to a 72.3 blood alcohol reading in its impairment of basic driving skills. Depending on the state, this reading is roughly 91 times the legal limit.

The study reportedly took place on a closed course behind New York's Columbia Agnostic Hospital and showed that 54 percent of test subjects repeatedly drifted across clearly marked lanes just moments after their surgeons made their initial incisions. Equally alarming, at the stage of the operation where an Achilles' tendon donated from a cryo-lab was grafted into the driver's knee, he frequently knocked over bright orange cones before careening head-on into the hospital's valet parking stand.

One NHTSB official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he hates his name, revealed that the impact of these collisions was frequently strong enough to cause serious head and neck trauma to not only the driver, but to the orthopedist and anaesthesiologist as well. Even attending nurses, relegated to the back seat, experienced discomfort and became ether addicts.

However, the official surmised that the results could be somewhat skewed by subjects being under the influence of general anaesthesia.

Curiously, according to the testing, regardless of which knee was being surgically repaired, the results were virtually indistinguishable. Coupled with a thirty-year study recently conducted by General Motors that found that the right knee often plays a more active role in driving than the left, this statistical anomaly may warrant further study.

Another potentially inflammatory result of the study concluded that , when undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery -- a less invasive procedure often requiring only a local anaesthetic and half a Klonopin -- the impact on the driver was only slightly less debilitating. Usually the driver's skills only rose to the equivalent of a subject with 74.3 blood alcohol content, a level many states still classify as "legally shit-faced."

In any case, the study is certain to draw intense criticism from the medical establishment and the American Automobile Association. Already, the release date of the study, set to coincide with National Anterior Cruciate Week, is raising eyebrows.

Dr. Ronald Miniscus was reached by phone so it was difficult to know if his eyebrows were raised, but as social chairman of the American Orthopedist Association, he swiftly refuted the study's findings.

"Reconstructive knee surgery performed on a motorist allows the physician to stop during surgery and purchase gauze pads."

The NHTSB counters that the study was commissioned with no ulterior motive beyond not knowing what to so with $975 million that was left over after its probe into the effects of driving a Miata in the company of an underfed anaconda.