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Study: Driving With Bad Cold Is Like Driving Drunk

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SneezeDriving when you have the flu or a bad cold is as hazardous as driving drunk, and puts you and others on the road at risk of a car accident, according to a new study.

The research, by Young Marmalade (a U.K.-based car insurance company) and Cardiff University in Wales, involved attaching black boxes like those in planes to thousands of cars. The boxes recorded each driver’s speed, braking and cornering, and showed that people with the flu or a bad cold have only 50% of the driving skills that healthy people have. The driving of a person with a heavy cold is as impaired as that of someone under the influence of four double whiskeys, and involves longer reaction time, decreased concentration, sudden braking, and erratic cornering.

“This small-scale trial provides a warning for motorists,” said Nigel Lacy, co-founder of Young Marmalade. “A heavy cold can impair a driver’s mood, concentration and judgement.”

As Mikaela Conley reports for the ABC News blog Medical Unit:

While there are no official figures on accidents related to sneezing and other cold and flu symptoms, there are about 500 million colds per year in the U.S, according to a telephone survey conducted between 2000 and 2001. Since about 90 percent of Americans drive every day, about 1 million Americans will be driving with a cold on any given day, ABC News medical researchers tallied.

9WSYR.com writes that the study found that the decreased driving skills are not caused by medications that the drivers with bad colds or flu are taking, but are more likely the result of poor sleep caused by a cold. 9WSYR.com speculates that if the U.K. study’s cold-related accident rate holds true in the U.S., “colds cause more than 600,000 accidents per year.”

An article in the United Kingdom newspaper The Telegraph quotes PC Steve Rounds, of the Central Motorway Police Group, who points out that “Sneezing can be very violent, especially with a severe cold and causes the sufferer to close their eyes temporarily.”

The Telegraph offers the following advice for people who are under the weather and for drivers in good health, and says that in the U.K., drivers with bad colds can be prosecuted:

Halfords Winter Driving Expert Mark Dolphin said: ‘We want our customers to stay safe. You shouldn’t drive if you are not feeling well. The best place to be when you have flu or a heavy cold is at home, but if you really must go out, get someone else to take you and avoid driving.

‘Other drivers should be aware of those around them and if they see someone sneezing be prepared for the unexpected to happen and increase the distance between vehicles.’ Added to this Police warn that drivers getting behind the wheel while suffering from a heavy cold could be prosecuted.

Image by trumanlo (Truman), used under its Creative Commons license.

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