Friday, January 13, 2012

How sick is "too sick" to drive?

Girl with cold

Could driving with a bad cold or a case of the flu affect your ability to drive? A new study claims it's nothing to sneeze at!
The study was conducted by Young Marmalade, an auto insurance company based in the UK, as well as Cardiff University in Wales. The researchers involved state that drivers experience a major loss of concentration while under the weather, up to a 50% drop in driving ability. Some of the trends they noticed were:
  • An increase in the frequency of sudden braking
  • Less awareness of surrounding traffic
  • Slower reaction times
Now, I've previously written about impaired driving (more specifically, driving while sleep deprived) and believe that driving while tired is very similar, if not worse, than drunk driving because it impairs the brain significantly. Since illness is often associated with drowsiness and the feeling of wanting to rest, it makes sense that driving ability would become impaired. The question is, to what extent? In this study, it is being claimed that sick driving has the equivalent of drinking four double whiskies.

In order to complete the study, selected drivers were set up with black boxes that recorded their speed, braking, and cornering abilities, which were then measured. However, because the degree to which people feel sick can vary wildly, there isn't a standard measure of reference to go by. What is known though, is that most of us tend to get several colds a year, and when you multiply that by the entire U.S. population (roughly 311 million), that's close to a billion colds going around! In other words, there's a good chance that someone you're sharing the road with is going to be affected or impaired to some extent. Whether that's a mild sore throat, or coughing up more junk than a busted vaccuum cleaner, there's no telling for sure!

As Dr. Christopher Ohl, associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina puts it, "One needs to understand there is a wide range of mental impairment from illness, and more minor ailments are really not much of a problem if symptoms are controlled with non-narcotic medications.”

When I've had strep throat in the past, I can vouch for it affecting my reaction times at the wheel (and later regret having not taken that sick day!) However, that's not always going to be the case with each individual person. The degree to which you or I feel sick will always vary depending on our general health, and how bad the sickness is.

What do you think about this study? Should we be more aware of illnesses and driving impairment?

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