Seasonal allergies as distracted driving


If you go back fifty years, the world was such a simple place. When it came to driving, everyone waited until their birthday came around, then jumped in the family car, and no one ever looked back. It was the call of the open road, particularly during the summer months, when young people loved to go cruising. Now everyone is concerned about the number of young people who are injured or killed on our roads. There’s actually an unintended consequence to the engineering developments in new vehicles to make them safer. The more the ads reassure people they will walk away from crashes, the more the young are tempted into thinking it’s safe to crash. That’s why they feel able to take their eyes off the road for quite longer periods of time to receive and send text messages, and generally to interact with their friends using the latest technology. If you ask a safety expert today what the red-hot issue of the day is, the answer will be distracted driving. It’s injuring and killing more people than speed, alcohol, or drugs.

In one sense, it’s good we should be thinking about distracted driving. It’s always been a problem, but it’s taken the development of mobile technology to bring it into focus. In reality, people have always been willing to do other stuff while behind the wheel. It used to be fiddling with the radio or putting a tape cassette into the deck. If you were really bored, you could have an argument with the other people in the vehicle — usually the kids or your peers. Or you could go through a drive-thru and pick up a burger to go. Juggling the drink between your knees while chowing on the burger took years of practice.

Except there’s always been a problem that no one has ever wanted to talk about. As we come out of winter, and the grasses, flowers, and trees begin to release pollen, some people find their eyes start to water, they begin to cough and sneeze. They feel tired.

No matter how you try to sweeten the pill, these symptoms are just as distracting as those impaired by alcohol. Now add in the sad fact the standard medications for treating seasonal allergies often make the driver drowsy. Yes, hay fever has been linked to crashes since we first put the horse in front of the cart (many discovering they were allergic to horses). Now there’s some new research into the effects of pollen allergies.

Researchers in Holland took a small sample of drivers and, during the winter months, exposed some to allergens with or without effective antihistamine treatments. The finds show the antihistamines had a sedative effect and worsened the quality of driving in those exposed to real allergens. So now comes the problem for law-makers. When doctors certify a person has significant allergies, should the privilege of driving during the season be suspended? Yes, if you live in one of the following cities:

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