Cold and flu season is at its peak this time of the year. That means more drivers are out on the roads with decongestants in their system, cold medications delaying their response time, and high fevers paired with chills that are making them uncomfortable and less focused on the road.
While most feel that there is nothing wrong with driving with a cold or flu, two studies have found that driving with a common cold might be as dangerous as drunken driving.
Therefore, getting behind the wheel with a cold or flu could mean you are failing to provide the standard level of care; you could be held liable for any accidents you cause as a result.
An insurance company by the name of Young Marmalade in Great Britain conducted a study on the effects of the common cold and driving. They found that when drivers are ill, it diminished their skills by approximately 50 percent. Ill drivers also suffered from reduced reaction times, major concentration issues, and more. Researchers compared those with a cold to those driving on four double whiskeys and found the cold to be just as dangerous as the drinking.
No one feels great when they are sick. They could be suffering from a cough, stuffy or a runny nose, fever, chills, body aches, and more. Therefore, it should be no surprise that driving with these symptoms is a distraction.
Those with an illness or high fever should stay home to rest, but should also protect the public from dangerous driving behavior. Given the number of Americans who will drive with the cold or flu virus, it is estimated that each day one million Americans are driving while ill.
When you are sick and driving, you are distracted. In fact, an infamous study in Britain showed that there were 2,500 more accidents each week that were blamed on sneezing, reaching for a tissue, and blowing the nose. When people think of distracted driving, they assume texting and talking. However, blowing your nose or dealing with your cold symptoms are forms of distracted driving.
After all, when you sneeze, you close your eyes and you could lose control of the vehicle. Even though it is only a second (maybe two), you might travel more than 50 feet during that sneeze, and that means you are going 50 feet without paying attention to the road. Reaching for tissues to catch that runny nose means you take your eyes off the road and possibly a hand off of the wheel. Then, your car could weave into another lane.
A combination of cold medicines and high fevers could actually trigger a breathalyzer to register you as a drunken driver. It is important to note that even though you did not drink alcohol, some cold medicines contain drugs like alcohol that slow reaction times and make you drowsy. These could make you drive like an intoxicated driver – you could exhibit behaviors such as weaving, slowing down when it is unnecessary, and slower reaction times.
High body temperatures naturally exaggerate the effects of cold medicines, too, which means that the cold medicine you take could affect you more harshly than how it would if you were healthy.
A second British study found that a person with the cold had a slower reaction time than those who have consumed four pints of beer. The cold significantly reduced response time by as much as 36 milliseconds. However, consuming four pints of beer only slows reaction times by 15 milliseconds. They also showed that all it takes is a sneeze or a cough to take the driver’s attention off of the road.
There are physical effects of the flu and cold that impact a driver’s ability to be safe. However, any time the body is fighting off an infection, the chemicals in the brain – including those that handle mood and movement – are changed. A person suffers a brain reaction to the cold and flu, which includes memory problems, mood changes, and an inability to move the same. These could lead to dangerous motor vehicle accidents.
You must get to work, take the kids to school, or even pick up a prescription and see a doctor. So, when you are too sick to drive safely, see if a friend or family member can take you to the doctor. Even though it might seem like a hassle, asking for a ride is doing your part to remain safe on the road.
If you were to choose to drive despite your symptoms, you could be held liable for any accidents or injuries that you cause.
If that is not enough, here are how some common illnesses affect your body (and your ability to drive):
If you were injured in an accident by a driver who was ill while driving, you might have a claim against that driver. If he or she was aware of the condition, then he or she chose to ignore the standard duty of care and drive. Contact Malman Law in Chicago today to explore your options by calling our offices or requesting more information online.
Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.
Years of experience: +30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2023