Driving and your health

Driving can be a challenging business on crowded UK roads, but it can also be seriously damaging to our health. Here’s the Crawley Down Group’s guide to 10 ways to stay healthy behind the wheel.

1) Hire-car horror:

Do you need to book a hire car? Then you’d best reserve a seat in your doctor’s waiting room, according to new research.

VW Scirocco production car

VW Scirocco production car

Diagnosis: Researchers in the US hired six cars and took 25 swabs from various areas of the interior – 22 of these came back positive for harmful bacteria. The dirtiest spots were the steering wheels and door handles. The tests found that some of the vehicles had human faecal matter on the steering wheel. The researchers also tested child seats that came with the vehicles – finding sewage contamination on one. In a separate study, experts at Queen Mary University in London found an average of 700 kinds of bacteria within car interiors, compared with 60 types in the average public toilet.

Treatment: If you want to hire a car while also avoiding added extras such as diarrhoea and vomiting, you’d best take anti-bacterial wipes and plenty of alcohol hand gel.

2) What’s lurks beneath your sun visor:

The cold winter months are coming and after a long, mild summer, 2014 has experienced a bumper crop of spiders. September will see them head indoors to beat falling temperatures – and ‘indoors’ can also include your car.


Diagnosis: An arachnid infestation in your car could mean you end up like farm worker Lucille Ellis – who has a phobia of spiders – and crashed her car after one dropped down from behind the vehicle’s sun visor. Lucille was fined for careless driving while the other driver, Diane Martin, suffered back and leg wounds.

Treatment: We’re prescribing ‘No More Spiders’ a spray that contains peppermint oil and can help stop spiders entering your car – or clearing existing infestations – without harming them. Get it here www.amazon.co.uk/household-s-More-Spiders-500ml/dp/B002EISUUS

3) Change your route:

It’s not always your car that can put you at risk of injury – but also the roads you drive it on.


Diagnosis: We all need to drive a car and accidents will happen – but some roads are more dangerous than others. New cars are packed with safety equipment, but picking a route that avoids particularly dangerous stretches is another good way to further cut the risk of injury. Read our treatment section below to find out how.

Treatment: Put you postcode into this interactive crash map (www.crashmap.co.uk/) and check out the roads that you use on a daily basis, or plan to navigate for a one-off trip. The map will then bring up markers that show all collisions on those roads – and these can be filtered by severity of injury or even fatality. This can give you the information you need to make your journey even safer.

4) Don’t let your four-legged friend turn killer:

Do you know that letting your dog wander round the car while you’re driving – or poke its head out of the window – could end up with you in court for dangerous driving – or worse still, in hospital.


Diagnosis: Would you leave an unsecured 150lb package on the parcel shelf behind your child’s head while driving? That’s exactly what you’re doing by leaving a dog – such as an English Mastiff – unrestrained in your car. The consequences of even a minor accident could be terrifying.

Treatment: Stay on the right side of the law and avoid serious dog-related injury by installing a seatbelt or other restraint for your pet. Get some treatment here www.k9active.co.uk/dog-car-restraints/

5) New car smell:

Few things in life are better than stepping from your eight-year-old banger with its subtle odour of stale kebabs and slipping into the driving seat of your brand-new wheels at the local dealership. Sadly, it seems this fabled new-car-smell in some cars could actually be giving your health a good kicking with high-levels of toxic chemicals.

Diagnosis: A 2011/12 study by the US-based Ecology Centre found that some cars were stuffed with a cocktail of chemicals such as chlorine, bromine, lead and heavy metals. These have all been linked to a range of medical nasties such as allergies, birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer. The Ecology Center named the Mini Cooper S Clubman, VW EOS and Mitsubishi Outlander as some of the worst offenders.

Treatment: Firstly, we’d prescribe a large pinch of salt to go with these claims from a group that has an agenda against car ownership, but ensuring you keep your new vehicle well ventilated for the first six months of ownership will clear any ‘harmful’ effects. Alternatively, there were no Skoda, Seat, Peugeot or Fiat models in the worst 10 cars, so pop along to the Crawley Down Group to buy a health-conscious new car.

6) DIY accident repair:

Had a slight ding? You might be tempted to save a few pounds by pulling on your overalls and have a go at banging, filling and painting the dent yourself? You might also care to consider the health impacts.

Diagnosis: The UK Health & Safety Executive warns that carrying out repairs in situations that aren’t strictly controlled can result in exposure to dangerous paints and harmful dusts. These can lead to serious health hazards that can result in conditions such as asthma, dermatitis, breathing difficulties and long-term changes to lung tissue.

Treatment: Don’t put your health at risk – have any accident repairs carried out by professionals such as the Crawley Down Group. Get more info on repairs here http://www.cdg-cars.com/bodyshop/

7) Don’t drive with your husband or wife:

Driving with your partner or spouse quadruples your likelihood of feeling stressed and anxious while driving, according to research by Allianz Insurance.

Diagnosis: Stress and anxiety makes a poor combination for drivers and greatly increases the risk of having an accident and sustaining injury. It’s worse for women too… driving with a male partner is more stressful than a fella accompanied by his ‘other half’ in the passenger seat.

Treatment: Filing for divorce might be a little extreme, so we’d advise taking taxi.

8) Are you sitting comfortably:

Do you drive for your job – as a salesman or van driver perhaps? Then you could be looking at a bleak future on the health front.


Diagnosis: Employees whose job involves a lot of driving could be at risk of developing musculoskeletal problems such as neck, hip, knee and back pain. Experts put the risk threshold at driving for more than four hours a day.

Treatment: Many people believe that driving pain is just down to poor posture, but this is not always the case. Research has shown that using the vehicle in a way it wasn’t intended is a large contributory factor. For example, travelling businessmen spend a lot of time using laptops while parked. It was found that simply swapping from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat could significantly reduce risks to ongoing health. If you’re a company car driver, ask for a health assessment to be carried out on your vehicle and how you use it.

9) Children:

Got a backseat the full of squabbling offspring – then you could be at risk of some serious auto-related pain.

Even families can 'downsize' their car - and bills

Diagnosis: Drivers with kids on the back seat looked away from the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute car journey – that’s 21% of the time – according to American safety researchers AAA. This makes kids 12 times more distracting than illegally using a mobile phone while at the wheel. This amount of distraction could easily result in an accident and serious injury.

Treatment: Make sure you have plenty of things to keep kids occupied on longer trips – such as iPads and DVD players – and try to travel with another adult to help you concentrate on the driving. On shorter trips – such as the school run – make sure your children are well-versed on the importance of staying quiet while you drive – and the negative effects that not doing so might have on their pocket money/TV time etc.

10) Air-conditioning blasts an ill wind:

It might help keep you cool, but it can also make you ill if you don’t take care of your car’s air-con. A dirty system can harbour mould and bacteria that won’t be too popular with your body’s immune system.

Diagnosis: Air-con can cause irritation to your nose and throat and exacerbate eye conditions such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis. Additionally, a dirty clogged system could also spread bacteria that might lead to more serious conditions. We all know the – rare but real – link between air-con and Legionnaire’s disease.

Treatment: Alongside the small health risks associated with an un-loved air-con system, the cooling benefits will also be greatly reduced while fuel consumption will increase. Get your system serviced and cleaned by the Crawley Down Group.

Clinic in your car

Have you ever been stuck in a jam and spotted the driver in the car behind picking his nose and eating the results, or the woman in the neighbouring car doing her nails? Don’t be too quick to judge them – they could be helping to improve their health or spot potential illness. Here’s our guide to the ways we while away the boredom of traffic jams could be seriously beneficial to our health.

Picking your nose: Alleged benefits of picking your nose and eating the results include a boost to the immune system by allowing the body to produce antibodies.

Earwax: Using a pen lid or hair clip to idly scrape earwax while in your car is not recommended by medical professionals, but the condition of your excretions could offer insight into your health, according to some researchers. Apparently, we’re born with either sticky or brittle earwax – and those with the dry, brittle variety are more prone to risk of heart disease.

Eyes: Looking at yourself in the rear-view mirror? Can see a yellowy ring around your cornea? This could be corneal arcus- common in those over 70, but anyone younger could be suffering from dangerously high levels of cholesterol. Get a fasting test at your docs.

Earlobe: Have a look at your earlobe in the rear-view mirror… does it have a diagonal crease? Some studies claim that creases on your earlobes can be a sign of heart disease. It’s especially dangerous if you’re under 50. Your doctor will arrange for checks or put your mind at rest.

Hair: Spending a little too much time looking at your receding hairline in the rear-view mirror? Apparently, losing hair from the temples is not as bad as it falling from the top of your head – which means you could be at higher risk of heart disease.

Hair for girls: Noticed extra hair on the headrest of your car? It could mean you’re suffering from a thyroid disorder. Medication will soon have it under control.

Doing your nails: Filing your nails as you queue in the rush hour gridlock? Have a closer look now… Nail clubbing occurs when tissue at the tips of the fingers starts to cover the nail. Studies claim people with clubbing fingernails have a higher risk of serious illness, heart disease, or lung disease.

3 thoughts on “Driving and your health

  1. Town Garage

    I would certainly have to agree with importance of getting your air con fixed. Most people don’t realise that if their air con isn’t working properly it’s not only doing their vehicle any good but it can also harm their health.


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