More than 125, 000 crashes were caused last year by motorists with colds and flu, as new scientific research reveals the serious impact of driver illness on accident rates2.
A new study commissioned by Lloyds TSB Insurance proves that driving with a virus such as cold or flu, impairs driver awareness by as much as 11 per cent3 – the equivalent of downing a double whisky before getting behind the wheel.
The experiment put drivers with a variety of conditions, including PMT, stress, and headaches, through an approved hazard simulator test. Those suffering from colds and flu came off worst, with reaction times and alertness slashed compared to a healthy driver.
According to the motor insurance provider, one in 10 road accidents in 2008 can be attributed to driver flu4 – which landed the nation with a £350 million bill. What’s more, they are predicting a significant rise in such incidents over the next few months as cold and flu pandemics grip the nation5.
Despite the risks, public awareness of the problem is low, with 12 million (38 per cent) admitting that they have driven while suffering from cold or flu – with half of these drivers (46 per cent) believing that the illness has no affect at all on their driving ability.
In response to this, Lloyds TSB Insurance is warning drivers of the dangers of being unwell at the wheel, particularly when combined with medication, fatigue or a small amount of alcohol, which all have a significant impact on driving ability.
Paula Llewellyn, spokesperson for Lloyds TSB Insurance, said:
“Our research proves that getting behind the wheel when ill causes thousands of accidents every year. This serves as a double warning for drivers – firstly, try to avoid driving if you’re suffering from cold or flu and secondly, be prepared for other drivers’ irresponsibility by making sure you are comprehensively insured.”
Dr Dawn Harper, who is supporting the campaign, added:
“Safe driving requires concentration and good reactions, both of which are significantly reduced, even by just a mild cold. I would advise drivers suffering from these conditions to avoid getting behind the wheel until they are better.”
The behavioural study was carried out by research agency PCP, who tested a sample of 102 drivers with a hazard perception simulator between 22 December 2008 and 9 January 2009. Driving with headache, stress or PMT resulted in a score 4% below the control group (not a statistically significant reduction), while driving with a cold resulted in an 11% decline.
All other figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3,985 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd December 2008 and 6th January 2009. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)
1. The average damage caused by a car accident (per car) is £2,747 based on the number of annual accident (2.2 million) multiplied by the total annual motor claims (£6.2bn). 127,500 accidents multiplied by the average cost of an accident (£2,747) = £350 million.
2. 74% of GB adults drive (33,600,000), of which 38% say that they’ve driven while suffering from a bad cold or flu in the past 12 months, which was shown to have a negative effect on driving ability in the hazard simulator test - therefore 12,768,000 drivers have put themselves at risk. Of these, 2 per cent have had an accident while ill (255,000), and half of these drivers say that this illness contributed to the accident (127,500 – approx 125,000).
3. Simulator participants suffering from cold scored on average 11 per cent lower than the control sample. According to experiments carried out by the AAS (Key Text – alcohol and cars, a volatile mix) this decline in performance (10-12 per cent) is similar to the effect of two units of alcohol (or blood alcohol concentration of 0.05-0.065mg/100ml) – the legal limit in the UK is 0.080mg/100ml.
4. In the last 12 months, 5 per cent of the population were involved in some form of car accident where they were the driver (2,271,000). If most collisions or accidents involved another vehicle then this would equal 1,136,000 accidents. 127,500/1,136,000 = 0.112 (11 per cent – more than one in 10).
5. Figures from Royal College of GPs show that levels of cold and flu peak in the periods of December through to March (based on 9-year average figures) and have remained above this average level in the early stages of 2009.
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