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Driving with a cold

Driving with a cold? The risk's not to be sniffed at

Sneezing woman cold

Driving with a heavy cold is nothing to sneeze about.

Safe driving needs good reactions and concentration, which can both be affected when the driver is poorly.

Driving when unwell

In the past, we found that almost 1 in 5 drivers take to the road while unwell.* For many, it was due to flu or a heavy cold.

Is driving with a cold potentially dangerous?

If you have a heavy cold or flu when you drive, your reaction times and concentration behind the wheel can be affected. Here's how:

  • You can struggle to drive in a straight line when a sneeze is coming.
  • Sneezing, headaches, runny noses and painful sinuses can cut your concentration and awareness.
  • Being ill can make you feel more tired on long journeys. 
  • Cough and cold remedies could cause drowsiness

If a driver has a heavy cold or flu then their reaction times and concentration behind the wheel can be affected

Edmund King, AA president

Sneezing fact file

Sneezing has sometimes been a factor in road accidents, with varying penalties given to the drivers. Here are some cold and flu facts:

  • A lorry driver was jailed for 4 years for causing death by dangerous driving.
  • A woman was cleared of careless driving after a collision that left 1 man injured.
  • One American driver claimed that his accident was caused trying not to sneeze, which forced him to all but close his eyes.
  • Adults catch between 2 and 4 colds a year.
  • Children have more, and so do adults who come in contact with children.
  • Colds are caused by hundreds of different types of virus.
  • In the UK, people get more colds during winter although nobody really understands why.

Did you know?
If you sneeze while driving at 70mph, you'll drive blind for 70 yards.

Driving advice if you're ill

If you drive with a cold you need to think about how you can handle a sneezing or coughing fit. This might mean driving more slowly to compensate.

Be aware of how medicine could affect you.

  • Read the information on the label before taking medicine if you need to drive.
  • Some cold remedies are dangerous for drivers.
  • Medicine may contain alcohol or make you drowsy, similar to being drunk and unsafe on the roads.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “We often take our health and driving for granted. If a driver has a heavy cold or flu then their reaction times and concentration behind the wheel can be affected. People will still need to drive when they are unwell but they should be aware of the added dangers and adapt their driving accordingly."

*2012 AA/Populus poll of 20,000 AA members.

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