The perils of driving in flu season

Both the symptoms and treatments of colds and flus can impair one's ability to drive

Published: November 9, 2014, 12:55 AM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 9:54 AM

Driver Sneezing

The impending flu season can be more than just unpleasant for drivers. It can be dangerous, says Britain's Institute for Advanced Motorists (IAM).

With more than 200 common cold viruses and several types of flu viruses, it will be the rare person that doesn't experience cold or flu symptoms at least once this winter.

What many fail to recognize is that both the symptoms and common treatments may impair one's ability to drive.

Concentration and reaction

It's not uncommon, according to the IAM, for cold or flu systems to compromise one's ability to concentrate by as much as 50%, with a commensurate impact on decision making ability and reaction time

The sneeze factor

Sneezes are natural byproducts of colds and flus. A typical sneeze can last from half-a-second to two seconds or more – time during which one's eyes are closed involuntarily. When driving at highway speed, a car can travel from 2.5 to 10 car lengths during that time. That's a long time to be driving blind, especially in heavy traffic.

Side-effects of medication

There's a plethora of over-the-counter medications these days, specifically formulated to ease the symptoms of colds and flus. But many of those medications contain codeine or other ingredients that may cause drowsiness or contribute to blurred vision. If the label or instructions say ‘may cause drowsiness’ it's unwise to drive while taking it. Ditto for prescription drugs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about side-effects before driving.

The bottom line

If you are feeling unwell enough to be taking medication, chances are your ability to drive will be impaired to some extent by the symptoms, the medication, or both. Driving when you’re drowsy or when your ability is impaired can have serious consequences. Something to keep in mind before getting behind the wheel!