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Does a sneeze really constitute as a distraction?

When you think of a distraction that can lead to a motor vehicle accident, what normally comes to mind? If you're like a lot of our Sacramento readers, you probably think of drivers using their cellphones or paying more attention to the billboard on the side of the highway than the vehicles around them. But while you might envision the most obvious distractions, there are others that can be just as dangerous. There is even one you might not have thought about before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are three principal types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. All of these elements take a drivers attention away from the roadway, oftentimes resulting in serious or even fatal crashes. While most distractions may only include one or two of these elements, there is one that involves all three and that is the sneeze.

Though you might not consider this a distraction, a poorly timed sneeze can cause a person to close their eyes at the most inopportune of moments, causing them to rear end the person in front of them or miss a pedestrian stepping in a crosswalk. If the driver is experiencing a sneezing attack, typical of people who suffer from allergies or a particularly nasty cold, they may close their eyes repeatedly over the span of a few seconds, possibly making them more of a danger behind the wheel than someone texting and driving.

Even though we can't always predict when we are going to sneeze or even if it's going to be a particularly violent one, it could still be considered negligence. This is because it could be argued, especially in cases where a driver is suffering from allergies or a cold, that the driver should have known that their symptoms could affect their ability to drive. The choice to drive anyway could be seen as negligence, therefore leaving the driver liable for damages in a personal injury case.

Sources: The Washington Post, "When sneezing kills," Justin Wm. Moyer, June 18, 2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Driver Distraction: A Review of the Current State-of-Knowledge," April 2008

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