Most of us have done it. Drivers young and old are guilty. It is likely that we all have sneezed at some time while behind the wheel. When cruising, crossing intersections, changing lanes and otherwise minding our business as we drive, the tingle can creep in at any time. After the tingle is panic, just as the realization sets in that one sneeze could cause an accident.
Most drivers make it through a sneeze while driving accident unscathed. But some do get into accidents caused by this one uncontrollable and unpredictable reflex. The dangers of sneezing while driving can be frightening.
Sneezing Behind the Wheel Statistics
Little research has been conducted on the subject of sneezing while driving in the U.S. But British researchers have paid attention and noted some remarkable statistics.
- According to a study conducted by English cold and flu medicine Olbas Max Strength, over two million car accidents have been caused by sneezing.
- British car repair company Halfords Autocentres reported that 2.6 million U.K. drivers admitted to taking their eyes off the road due to cold or flu symptoms. Halfords also blamed 2500 accidents each week during British winters on these unnamed cold and flu conditions. Of course, sneezes are the likeliest culprits to blame in these flu-generated wrecks.
In the United States, the National Safety Council (NSC) is clear that distracted driving is very deadly. That organization reports 1.6 million auto accidents are caused by distracted driving each year, specifically blaming the driver’s use of a cell phone or texting while driving. But the NSC has not provided statistics regarding sneezing and driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers distracted driving any form of vehicular operation that could be categorized under one or more of these three types:
- Visual – eyes are taken off the road while driving
- Manual – hands are taken off the wheel while the vehicle is moving
- Cognitive – the driver’s mind is not focused on vehicle operation and safety while driving
Clearly sneezing while driving can fall under all three of those categories, at once. Beyond distraction, a particularly hard sneeze can add a violent head thrust to the reflex. Drivers have been known to hit their head on the steering wheel and other internal surfaces of the car.
According to Halfords, drivers sneezing behind the wheel while driving at 60 miles per hour may travel 50 feet or more with their eyes completely closed. Sneezes can cause temporary disorientation and watery eyes in their aftermath, adding to the distance potentially traveled without visual control.
American Roadway Accidents Caused by Sneezing While Driving
While statistical data is light for this category of distracted driving in the United States, the results of sneezing while driving are clear. Plenty of car accidents have been reported by police across the country.
- In Missouri in 2012, the death of a single mother was blamed on a schoolteacher who lost control of her car due to a sneeze.
- In New Hartford, New York, a driver veered off the highway due to a sneeze.
- One woman in Massachusetts likely caused herself quite a fright when she rear-ended a state police cruiser due to a sneeze.
- In San Leandro, California, a truck driver who sneezed caused an impact with 10 other cars.
- A driver died after a sneeze-induced accident in Salisbury, Maryland in 2011.
Experts Weigh In on the Dangers of Sneezing While Driving
U.K. police official Steve Rounds said about sneezing while driving, “Sneezing can cause the sufferer to temporarily close their eyes.” He continued, “Driving a car with severe cold symptoms is certainly irresponsible and an accident leading to death or serious injury can expose the sneezing driver to dangerous driving charges.”
A Phoenix car accident attorney of Cantor Crane advises drivers to try to pull over and stop if a sneeze is coming. Your vehicle can be considered a deadly weapon when it is in motion. This makes it very important to focus on the roadway when behind the wheel. This means focusing your eyes and mind on the road, with your hands on the wheel. Because studies indicate that seven percent of sneezing drivers are in accidents due to their cold-related reflex, Crane emphasizes the importance of considering a sneeze as dangerous as other forms of distracted driving. “Your actions can cause injuries and even fatalities. So it is very important to be responsible the next time a sneeze is coming on while you are operating your vehicle.”