You know the dreaded burning feeling up your nose which tells you a sneeze is about to happen? And the more you think about it the less likely it is to go away? Add this to the fact that you are driving down the motorway at top speed. Are you about to put your life (and others’) at risk?
Let’s work out what might happen. Although any distraction can be dangerous, the biggest problem with sneezing is that your eyes will be closed – generally not a good idea when driving! If we guess that a sneeze lasts about one second we can work out how far you will actually travel when going 70mph and it’s about 31 metres (or 101 feet).
This is about six car-lengths, so certainly enough of a distance to cause problems if you are on a fast-moving road, or something changes unexpectedly. What makes accidents less likely is that you can prepare for a sneeze. You usually get a good few seconds warning and this lets your brain take into account what is happening around you to help you prepare.
So, to prevent any danger, could you train yourself to keep your eyes open when you sneeze? Unlike what you may have heard, your eyeballs will not pop out if you sneeze with your eyes open. Scientists don’t fully understand why we close our eyes when we sneeze. It isn’t to protect our eyes from the germs coming out of our noses, as they are fired out at high speeds of up to 100mph! A few people can keep their eyes open when sneezing but for most of us the blinking is what is known as a reflex action. We just can’t help it. It’s the same type of thing that happens when you tap below your knee and your leg kicks up. It just does. However hard you try, it isn’t something you can learn.
The other thing you could do is if you feel a sneeze coming on, is to press firmly either just under your eyebrow, or against your top lip. The signals that go from your nose to your brain pass by both these areas of your face. If you do it quickly enough you may be able to prevent the sneeze for a little while, perhaps even long enough to pull over somewhere safe…