Winter’s here and that means runny noses, scratchy throats, muscle aches and fever – and, for some unlucky souls, the full-blown flu. And while the cops don’t hand out tickets for driving with the flu, maybe they should.
According to Lloyd’s, the big British insurance company, 10 percent of all the motor vehicle crashes in the United Kingdom last year involved a driver with the flu, which it likened to driving after downing two shots of whiskey.
So if you’re one of those who pushes themselves to work in spite of feeling under the weather, consider this: the three most dangerous conditions for a driver are being distracted, fatigued or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Driving with the flu could mean you’re behind the wheel with all three.
A sick driver is a sleepy driver
Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of illness, and it’s a serious hazard. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in the United States, fatigue causes more than 100,000 auto collisions a year, 1,500 people are killed and 71,000 are injured. Studies in Europe show that between 10 and 20 percent of traffic accidents are caused by drowsiness, and that the probability of a driver being killed in a car crash when suffering from fatigue increases by 2.5 times.
Ah… ah… achoo – CRASH!
Sneezing can be funny to look at, but behind the wheel it’s no laughing matter. From the time the “ah-ah” starts and the eyes close, to the roaring of the “choo,” a driver loses effective control of the vehicle. The Lloyd’s study found that at 30 miles per hour, a sneeze means a vehicle travels 88 feet without being under control, and at 60 miles per hour it travels 176 feet – more than 11 car lengths. That’s more than enough distance to cause a rear-end collision.
I’m not drunk, officer – I’ve got the flu!
Heavy colds and the flu cause the loss of muscle control and coordination estimated to be equal in effect to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. At that level, people start to lose their sense of caution and suffer significant impairment in eye movement, glare resistance, visual perception, and reaction times. These make simple maneuvers like turning, merging, and even driving in a straight line difficult. Add to that bouts of disorientation or dizziness, and you run the risk of getting pulled over for driving as if you’d been drinking.
On top of it all, many people who insist on driving when they’re sick take medications that can make these symptoms even worse. Over-the-counter medications may help your body to feel less like a war zone, but they can also leave you just as shell-shocked behind the wheel. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness, and taking decongestants can leave you restless or dizzy. Acetaminophen-based medications can result in low blood sugar for some people – the effects of which can be the same as driving with a 0.05 percent blood alcohol level.
So the prime directive for driving while sick is: don’t. But if you must, be sure you:
• Get plenty of rest before getting behind the wheel.
• Avoid long trips.
• Be sure you know that any medication you’re taking doesn’t impair your driving skills.
• At the first sign that you’re too tired to drive, pull over to a safe place and get some rest.