Most of us have. Drivers, young and old, are guilty. Chances are, we’ve all sneezed at one time or another while behind the wheel. When driving, crossing intersections, changing lanes, and minding our own business while driving, the tingling can appear at any time. After the tickle panic sets in, just when you realize that a sneeze could cause an accident.

Most drivers survive a sneeze while driving unscathed. But some suffer accidents caused by this uncontrollable and unpredictable reflex. The dangers of sneezing while driving can be terrifying.

Sneezing statistics behind the wheel

Little research has been done on the subject of sneezing while driving in the US But British researchers have been paying attention and looking at some remarkable statistics.

  • According to a study by English cold and flu medicine Olbas Max Strength, more than two million car accidents have been caused by sneezing.
  • British car repair company Halfords Autocentres reported that 2.6 million UK drivers admitted to taking their eyes off the road due to cold or flu symptoms. Halfords also blamed 2,500 accidents each week during British winters on these no-name cold and flu conditions. Of course, sneezing is the most likely culprit in these flu-generated shipwrecks.

In the United States, it is clear to the National Safety Council (NSC) that distracted driving is very deadly. That organization reports that 1.6 million car accidents are caused by distracted driving each year, specifically blaming the driver for using a cell phone or texting while driving. But the NSC has not provided statistics on sneezing and driving.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers distracted driving any form of vehicular operation that could be classified into one or more of these three types:

  • Visual: eyes turn off the road while driving
  • Manual – hands are removed from the steering wheel while the vehicle is in motion
  • Cognitive: the driver’s mind is not focused on the operation and safety of the vehicle while driving

Clearly, sneezing while driving can fall into all three of these categories, at once. Beyond the distraction, a particularly loud sneeze can add a violent head shove to the reflex. Drivers have been known to hit their heads on the steering wheel and other internal surfaces of the car.

According to Halfords, drivers who sneeze behind the wheel while driving 60 miles per hour can travel 50 feet or more with their eyes fully closed. Sneezing can cause temporary disorientation and watery eyes as a consequence, increasing the distance potentially traveled without visual control.

Accidents on American Roads Caused by Sneezing While Driving

While statistical data is sparse for this category of distracted driving in the United States, the results of sneezing while driving are clear. Police have reported many car accidents across the country.

  • In Missouri in 2012, the death of a single mother was attributed to a school teacher who lost control of her car due to a sneeze.
  • In New Hartford, New York, a driver ran off the road with a sneeze.
  • A woman in Massachusetts was probably very scared when she rear-ended a state police patrol car with a sneeze.
  • In San Leandro, California, a truck driver who sneezed crashed 10 other cars.
  • A driver died after a sneeze accident in Salisbury, Maryland in 2011.

Experts weigh in on the dangers of sneezing while driving

UK police official Steve Rounds said of sneezing while driving: “Sneezing can cause the victim to temporarily close their eyes.” He continued: “Driving a car with severe cold symptoms is certainly irresponsible and an accident that causes death or serious injury can expose the sneezing driver to dangerous driving charges.”

A Cantor Crane Phoenix car accident attorney advises drivers to try and stop if a sneeze is approaching. Your vehicle can be considered a deadly weapon when in motion. This makes it very important to focus on the road when behind the wheel. This means focusing your eyes and your mind on the road, with your hands on the wheel. Because studies indicate that seven percent of drivers who sneeze have 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 injury and even death. Therefore, it is very important to be responsible the next time a sneeze occurs while driving your vehicle.”

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