Updated 01 June 2017

A sneeze could be deadly

A sneeze at the wrong place and time could be fatal. As with talking on your cell phone, sneezing behind the wheel significantly raises your risk for an accident.

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Don’t eat, drink, fiddle with the radio, talk on the cellphone (or send text messages heaven forbid), turn to shout at the kids in the backseat or stare at other motorists.

And try not to sneeze.

Brief and petty as a sneeze may seem, it can have serious consequences if it happens in a moving vehicle.

One “Atishoo” may last just a second, but it completely breaks your concentration and raises your risk of an accident when you’re driving at speed. A UK study found that sneezing caused about 2 million cases of dangerous driving per year in that country.

When you sneeze, you tend to reflexively close your eyes, while your head and neck, and sometimes your whole body, jolts. When you’re driving, this often means your hands will shift or fly off the wheel.

Sneezing fit

And, especially at this time of year, you might be hit by a sneezing fit, not just one sneeze.

Many motorists are affected by annoying – and highly distracting – symptoms during hayfever season. A recent study in the UK concluded that 72% of motorists suffer sneezing and other symptoms like watering eyes when the pollen count is high. And 7% have had an accident or near-accident as a result of sneezing. Passenger sneezing can also dangerously distract a driver.

The study found that, when they sneeze, more than half of drivers said they closed their eyes; one fifth take their hands off the wheel and a third take their eyes off the road to search for tissues.

What's in a sneeze?

Keep your sneeze-count down

Esure, the UK company that commissioned the study, recommends the following measures to help reduce the risk of sneezing while driving:

  • Keep car windows closed. Vehicle pollution worsens respiratory and hayfever symptoms.
  • Have your car’s ventilation system checked and cleaned regularly.
  • Take your car for a valet service, or vacuum the interior yourself. Wiping down surfaces with a damp cloth with also help reduce airborne dust and pollen.
  • Avoid driving when you’re experiencing hay fever symptoms or when the pollen count is high.
  • It may be best not to take your pets in the car with you, because they may introduce animal dander that can worsen allergy symptoms.

(References: The independent online research company MyVoice, commissioned by Esure, surveyed a cross section of UK drivers, February 2008.

Read more:
Sneezing the body's natural reboot
What's making you sneeze?
Allergy Centre


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules