Is Driving While Sick Considered Negligence?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Is Driving While Sick Considered Negligence?

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

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.

Driving While Ill

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.

Sickness and Distraction

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.

Don’t Forget About Cold Medicines and Their Effects

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.

Slower Reaction Times

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.

When You are Too Sick to Drive

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):

  • The Flu: The flu has symptoms that are more severe than the common cold. You will have slower reaction times, high fever, nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, and aching joints.
  • Eye Infection: An eye infection, such as conjunctivitis, causes sticky discharge in the eye, itchiness, redness, and blurred vision – all of which affect your ability to drive safely.
  • Ear Infection: When you have an ear infection, you could experience pain, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and more. The medications used to treat some inner ear infections also cause sleepiness and could impair your driving abilities.
  • Migraines: Migraines are more than a headache; they cause incapacitating pain and discomfort. You could even suffer from blurred vision. The medications used to treat a migraine rival opiates – they make you drowsy and dizzy, and slow your reaction times.
  • Stomach Flu: The stomach flu is paired with nausea, bouts of extreme vomiting, high fever, joint pain and stiffness, exhaustion, dehydration, headaches, and diarrhea. Even just one of these symptoms is enough to make a person act as an impaired driver.

Injured by a Sickened Driver? You Could Have a Negligence Claim

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.

Steve Malman

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
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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