Driving under the weather the same as under the influence?

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No condition to drive

This man is in no condition to drive. Image: Helios/Flickr/CC BY-SA

We all know that driving after a few too many is a really, really bad idea. But how many hesitate to get in the driver’s seat when they are suffering from a cold or flu? A new study suggests that people who drive while they are sick are just as impaired as those who drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.

Reduced reaction time

The study was conducted by the U.K.-based car insurance company Young Marmalade, automotive retailer Halfords and the University of Cardiff. The data was collected using a black box in subjects’ cars. The boxes recorded speed, cornering and braking data.

The report concluded that drivers with colds have reduced reaction times, more frequent sudden braking and more difficulty concentrating — just like alcohol-impaired drivers.

Nigel Lacy, director of marketing for Young Marmalade, said in a statement:

“This small-scale trial provides a warning for motorists. A heavy cold can impair a driver’s mood, concentration and judgment.”

Four double whiskeys

The driving skills of cold sufferers are reduced by as much as 50 percent, estimated the report. The researchers likened the affects of driving with a cold to driving after downing four double shots of whiskey.

Published data not complete

However, the report’s lack of complete data has left some skeptical about its conclusions. Young Marmalade has not produced the complete study, despite a request to do so by ABC News.

Jaimie Dalessio of “Everyday Health,” referring to the four double whiskeys estimate, said, “We’re not sure how they measured those shots, but that sounds like a lot.”

Dr. Christopher Ohl, associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, told ABC that he believed “the vast majority” of people driving under the weather are not as impaired as those under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.

A cautionary tale

However, Ohl conceded:

“Everyone knows that when they have a fever and flu symptoms they are not at their best physically or mentally. Those with illness with high fever should be staying home for a lot of reasons, including getting needed rest and protecting others from illness. Perhaps we should add safe driving to that list.”

ABC News estimates that there are about 1 million drivers with colds and flus on U.S. highways at any given time.


Everyday Health
ABC News

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