November 9, 2021

Can an Illness Affect Driving?

illness affect driving

Have you ever had to drive when you were not feeling well? It may have seemed like you were not able to focus on driving. Is that just your imagination, or is it a real concern? Research has found that driving while sick negatively impacts driving skills. Tests of sick drivers and non-sick drivers have revealed that an illness does affect driving skills. One study by Lloyds TSB Insurance found that drivers with a simple head cold scored 11 percent worse than drivers who were healthy.

How Can Symptoms of the Cold or Flu Affect Driving?

A closer look at the symptoms of a head cold can help explain how driving skills can be impacted. Head colds typically involve one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose

Many of these symptoms happen with the flu, with greater intensity.

A fever can cause lightheadedness and confusion. High fevers can even cause hallucinations. These conditions all impair perception. If possible, you should avoid driving if you have a fever. While chills alone do not appear to cause impairment, they are a sign of a fever.

Headaches also vary in extremes, from mild to debilitating. Some headaches brought on by the flu can cause a migraine, where sensitivity to sound and light becomes painful and can make it nearly impossible to focus on any task.

Tiredness is a known cause of car accidents, causing thousands of deaths and injuries each year. Both perception of the road conditions and reaction times are slower when the body is tired. Extreme tiredness worsens the effects.

Sneezing and coughing causes brief disruptions. A cough can cause a driver to reflexively take their hand off the steering wheel to cover their mouth or reach for a tissue. A sneeze can do the same, and it momentarily causes the driver to close their eyes. If a cough or a sneeze happens at an inopportune time, it can prevent a driver from reacting timely, resulting in a close call or crash.

To make matters worse, some medications used to treat cold or flu can interfere with driving skills. Many cough medicines, decongestants, and antihistamines are known to cause drowsiness.

What Other Illnesses Can Interfere With Driving?

While colds and flu are common illnesses that cause symptoms that can impair driving, other illnesses can also be troublesome. Eye infections typically cause blurred vision. Ear infections can cause dizziness, nausea, and disorientation.

Driving with a stomach bug can seriously impair driving skills. These viruses usually appear within a day or two of exposure. Symptoms come on quickly and often cause nausea, stomach pain and cramping, muscle aches, and diarrhea. Most of these symptoms render motorists unable to focus and drive safely.

Motion sickness can be bought on by a cold, flu, fever, or stomach bug. It interferes with a driver’s ability to focus and involves nausea and disorientation. Some techniques to try to minimize the effects are to sit up straight, focus straight ahead, and avoid looking out of side windows unless necessary. The symptoms may be eased by some water or by taking motion sickness tablets. However, driving while experiencing motion sickness cannot be sustained for long and should be avoided.

A significant number of people suffer from chronic back pain. Some causes of back pain include strain from work, back injury from a prior accident, or age-related disorders, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, or stenosis of the spine. While recovery from back injury and/or strain takes a significant amount of time, most people cannot take sick leave for long enough to be relieved of back pain.

While other illnesses may not directly cause symptoms that can interfere with driving, they can indirectly interfere if the medication prescribed for them causes problematic symptoms. For example, a number of medications used to treat depression and/or anxiety disorders can make a person tired.

Check all medications you take regularly for warnings against operating heavy machinery and/or causing drowsiness. If you must take medications for chronic conditions and they cause you to be tired, work with your medical care provider to see if there are alternative medicines.

How Do Illnesses Affect Driving?

Studies conclude that drivers who have a cold or flu have slower reaction times and reduced alertness, making them more at risk of being involved in a serious car accident. Other more specific changes in drivers experiencing colds or flu have also been observed. These include:

  • Braking abruptly
  • Being less attentive
  • Driving unpredictably
  • Braking frequently and unnecessarily

How Common Is Driving While Sick?

The incidence of driving while experiencing symptoms that can interfere with driving is quite common. The more chronic a condition, the more time drivers spend behind the wheel when their skills can be compromised.

Driving while experiencing back pain has similar effects to driving while experiencing other illnesses. It can reduce ability to focus and reduce reaction time. If it impairs mobility as well, then back pain can cause other problems. A person who cannot twist to look out the side window or who can only lift their leg a certain distance will be unable to safely maneuver a vehicle.

Norristown Car Accident Lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. Can Help You if a Sick Driver Caused Your Collision

Sometimes, sick drivers choose to operate their vehicle, knowing that they cannot do so safely. If you were injured by a negligent driver, our Norristown car accident lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. can help you explore your legal options. Call us at 267-861-7100 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Chester County, and Norristown, Pennsylvania.