It’s the same story every year. You throw open your windows to air out the musty smells of winter, but spring brings a flutter of airborne pollens that cause your nose to run. The sneezes come two at a time, then four, until you are finally working through the fourth box of tissues.
Allergies affect 40% of children and over a quarter of adults. This means that at any given time, 16.9 million people are driving on the roads sneezing and wiping their nose. Unfortunately, for those suffering symptoms (and other motorists), allergies present a host of problems that make the roadways unsafe, and can cause accidents.
Linking Allergies to Accidents
These seasonal symptoms significantly hamper a person’s ability to drive. A single sneeze may preoccupy a motorist for long enough to rear-end a braking driver or swerve out of lane. Some experts claim that severe allergies and over-the-counter allergy medications can impair drivers as much as alcohol. Allergic rhinitis and OTCs have been linked to many roadway accidents. It is difficult to tell to what extent allergies effect motorists, since it is difficult to correlate accidents with driving ability.
Determining whether allergies or medications affect driving ability can be difficult, but both play a role. A study in the Netherlands tested the ability of several adults in their 30’s to drive with pollen allergies. All subjects were tested when pollen levels were at their lowest. Each were given antihistamines. The test subjects were then exposed to allergens, half of them placebos. Tests were conducted on different days to account for variable weather conditions.
Each subject spent an hour driving with a camera mounted on the vehicle, and their standard deviation of lateral position, or SDLP, was measured. SDLP is a factor the police commonly use to gauge if a motorist has been drinking. In the last quarter hour, the motorists were run through several memory tests. Those who were given pollen placebos were less impaired, both in terms of SDLP and memory. Those suffering allergic reactions had the motor skills of someone with a BAC of 0.03%. To put this into perspective, the legal blood alcohol limit is usually set around 0.08%.
While incredibly effective at addressing allergies, antihistamines also have adverse side effects. For example, they reduce swelling noses, relieve headaches, and clear itchy eyes, hives, and runny noses. However, many medications also make people feel unfocused and tired. You might experience confusion and reaction time being severely compromised. Have you ever heard the old adage, “Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication?” Antihistamines are one of those medications.
Antihistamines are sinister in their own right. People who spend time at bars or drinking at family reunions know their driving is impaired. This prompts them to call taxis or allow their spouses or a friends to drive them home. The reduced motor skills and fatigue from antihistamines has a slow onset, and many people do not realize their senses are reduced.
If you suffer from allergies, think twice before taking medications if you have to drive. It is prudent to take meds after driving to work. Holding off may be uncomfortable, but it can also save lives.
If you have recently been in a motorvehicle accident, don't hesitate to call Ohio Injury Law.