Got a full bladder? You just might get a traffic ticket

Gina Roberts-Grey

Before you get the behind the wheel, you’d better make a pit stop at a restroom. An overflowing bladder could cause havoc behind the wheel -- and possibly jeopardize your car insurance rates.

New research says driving with a full bladder can be just as distracting as talking or texting while driving. And when the need to pee gets urgent, it could lead to speeding. In both cases, you could receive a traffic ticket.  

“Distracted driving takes your focus off the road which can lead to missing possible hazards, hindering your reaction time, creating a dangerous and sometimes deadly situation,” says William McManus, police chief in San Antonio.

Your bladder and your driving skills

Peter Snyder, a neuroresearcher and professor at Brown University, originally set out to study how pain affects reaction and the ability to recall information. But what he discovered was that when you really, really have to go, you’re likely to exhibit similar driving impairments as if you were drunk, or were talking or texting while driving.

One safe and easy way to induce pain while also testing related cognitive dysfunction is forcing a person to function with a really full bladder. So to measure how sharp the brain is when the bladder is full, Snyder and his team gave healthy volunteers 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes while getting them to perform various tasks.

When the test group hit the point that they felt like they were going to explode, the participants also had trouble pressing the correct key to signal whether a playing card they'd just been shown less than a second before was red or black, Snyder says. Those with a dire need to go were about as inaccurate as volunteers trying to perform the same function with a 0.05 percent blood alcohol level, the equivalent of about 2.5 alcoholic drinks consumed in one hour.

“Having to focus attention on controlling muscles that really just want to relax is distracting,” Snyder says. And this distraction can be dangerous when you’re driving at 65 miles per hour. “A full bladder could easily be as distracting as talking on a cellphone or fiddling with radio buttons,” he says.

Snyder says the centers in the brain involved in all that "don’t pee" activity are close to areas that control attention and problem-solving. “It is entirely possibly that there is a connection between these closely organized regions. And that connection also leads to the cognitive difficulties we see,” he says.

And the full bladder-fueled pain and urgency can lead to risky moves that a person wouldn’t normally make, like speeding.

Your bladder and your rates

If the distraction of having to go leads to speeding or swerving off the road, you’re at risk of getting a traffic ticket. And in addition to paying a fine that could top $250 (depending on the municipality and type of ticket), you could face three to five years of higher car insurance premiums. The average rate hike for a ticket or accident is anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent.

“Car insurance companies see speeding or being cited for distracted driving as the possibility that a driver may file a claim in the future,” says Billy Van Jura, an insurance broker in New York. 

As these drivers are considered to be higher risk, car insurers will raise premiums to protect themselves against future claims.

However, if you do get a bladder-related traffic violation, Van Jura says there’s hope for your wallet. “Your rates should return to your pre-ticket rate after the penalty period,” he says.

Ask your agent or car insurance company how long the higher rate will be in effect (three years to five years) and then keep an eye on the calendar. Once you’ve paid your dues, Van Jura suggests calling your car insurance agent or company to ensure the penalty rate is wiped out.

Spare your bladder and your rates

These tips will help you steer clear of a bladder-related traffic ticket or incident.

Go before you leave home. It only takes a few extra seconds, but making a pit stop before sliding behind the wheel can come in handy if you’re unexpectedly stuck in traffic.

Ditch the travel mug. Drinking water, coffee or any other liquid while driving is only going to increase the odds you’ll have to go. It also can be distracting if you spill something on your lap or your seat.

Build in bathroom breaks. If you’re going to be driving for a while, make sure to allot time to pull over at a rest stop, restaurant or other public place to relieve yourself.

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