• Hannes Smith

Drivers beware hay fever season

It is currently estimated that around one in five people suffer from seasonal hay fever, with pollen being one of the most common allergens that trigger symptoms. It is also predicted that this season may be one of the worst on record for allergy sufferers in the Western Cape, with researchers confirming that the region’s pollen count is at its highest level since 2009.

Hannes Smith, Head Personal Lines Sales & Operations, at Old Mutual Insure says that this is a fact that drivers may increasingly have to start being aware of when they are on the road. “Every year there are thousands of accidents attributed to sneezing drivers and it is highly likely that these types of accidents will only increase as allergen levels continue to rise.

He points out that a single sneeze can force the average person to blink for between 0.3 and 0.7 seconds. “If you are driving at 60km/h, you could travel up to 10m with your eyes clamped shut if you sneeze just once. That isn’t considering the fact that many people also lose their fine motor control skills in that instant, or that many hay fever sufferers are prone to fits of three or four consecutive sneezes. It gets even scarier if you are traveling on the highway, because you could essentially lose control of your vehicle for stretches of up to 20m every time a sneeze happens.”

With this in mind, he states that road users need to know how to manage their risks on the road for their own safety. “A sudden sneeze can happen at any time while you are driving, and especially if you are prone to seasonal allergies, there are a number of precautions that you should take.”

Smith outlines the following safety precautions that can make the daily commute safer for hay fever sufferers:

Pull over if possible

Most people can feel sneezing fits coming on. If it is possible to safely pull over, it may be best for a driver to stop for a minute in order to let their sneezing subside.

Consult a pharmacist

Considering the risks involved in something as simple as a sneeze while driving, road users should not neglect to treat the symptoms of their allergies. There are a number of over-the-counter allergy medicines available, and a pharmacist should be able to assist in finding the right one for you. However, make sure you don’t opt for a product that induces drowsiness.

Change air filters

Most cars have cabin filters to keep dust, dirt and other contaminants out, and when these collect too much dust and pollen, they could in fact aggravate a driver’s allergies. According to most experts, air filters have to be replaced at least once every 15 000km. Of course, if you drive through areas with high levels of air pollution on a daily basis, it may be wise to replace air filters more frequently. The more you cut down on allergens being circulated inside the vehicle, the less likely you are to sneeze while driving.

Increase your following distance

This is generally a good rule for safe driving, and it significantly decreases your chances of colliding with another vehicle during a particularly bad sneezing fit. Leave a buffer of several car lengths to allow for more reaction time should anything happen. If you feel a sneeze coming on and you cannot pull over, at least slow down to create some extra space.

Lastly, he says that every road user should seriously consider having adequate vehicle insurance in place. “Not being in full control of one’s vehicle for even an instant can mean the difference between being able to avoid a potential accident or not, and a driver that causes a vehicle accident owing to an ill-timed sneeze, can be held liable for the resulting damages. Consult an insurer and find a policy that suits your needs as well as your budget to avoid the possibility of financial loss.,” Smith concludes.


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