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Being unwell at the wheel slows reaction time

Winter is here, and cold and flu season is upon us, which means sick drivers are on the roadways.

When you have a cold, in addition to all of the terrible symptoms your body experiences, your brain suffers as well. Illness negatively impacts performance and alertness. When you are sick your reflexes are dulled and your reaction time is sluggish, which hinders thought processes and it is difficult to process things quickly.

Psychomotor slowdown

One study discovered ill drivers had a slower reaction time than healthy drivers. Motorists infected with colds were less likely to detect and avoid collisions, and drivers had difficulty spotting possible dangers. When presented with a threat, reaction time for braking or swerving was delayed by 11 percent. The slowed response was comparative to alcohol impairment.

In the study, the healthy counterparts were able to avoid pedestrians and execute turns with greater accuracy in each simulation.

Warning signs

The test was performed using simulators, but the practical implication means if you are sick you should try to avoid getting behind the wheel. In some situations that’s not possible - you need to drive to work or pick your kids up from school - but if you don’t need to be on the roadways try to stay home. Furthermore, cold medicines can make you feel drowsy and lethargic, contributing to slower reactions times.

Be honest with yourself about your ability to drive safely and take caution if you begin to feel common cold and flu symptoms including congestion, general fatigue or dizziness.

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