Summer Driving

summer traffic 1Over the past twenty-five years of my safety career, I’ve seen countless videos, bulletins and articles highlighting tips and advice to drivers on coping with the savage conditions of “Winter Driving”.  Without a doubt, the winter season can bring unpredictable weather (depending on where you live and drive) ranging from snow, sleet, rain, fog, etc.  Additionally, low sun angles make dawn and dusk glare difficult to see other vehicles.

One of our clients asked — “why so little attention given to summer driving?”  It wasn’t an easy question to address initially and I wondered the same thing — why don’t we see more published about summer driving?  Most of what I’ve found on this topic deals with motorists heading out on vacation — dealing with congestion, unexpected breakdowns, overheated cars and tempers, etc.

Still, one point was inescapable — summertime deaths on the road are just as tragic, and depending on your source statistics, more numerous than in the winter.

National Safety Council, among others, have coined the term “The 100 Deadliest Days of Summer” as those days between Memorial Day (the final Monday of May in the USA) and Labor Day (First Monday in September) where road deaths are higher than any other time of the year.  In fact, it has been suggested that the sheer number of fatalities on 4th of July exceed those associated with the New Year’s holiday in January.

Contributing factors may include:

  • Increased motor vehicle activity —
    • more drivers in more vehicles on the road at the same time (i.e. adding vacationers to the “normal” levels of commuters, delivery and commercial drivers)
    • Longer days means more driving over the course of more hours
  • Vacationers heading out on long-distance trips fall victim to drowsy driving (pushing to make it further to avoid mid-trip layovers) and speed-aggravated collisions.
  • Increased congestion breeds fender-benders
  • Generally more drinking and driving by vacationers and holiday partiers
  • More late night traffic to avoid day-time congestion
  • More construction zones with merge points, little respect for construction zone speed limits (aggravating crashes at merge points)
  • Distracted driving “may” be greater due to popularity of social media (i.e. posting updates from vacation trip, checking work emails from the road at a red light, etc.)
  • Sudden rainstorms (depending on geographic location) may lead to more hydroplanning when downpours provide excessive rain that won’t drain from the roadway surface quickly.
  • Impaired driving from OTC or prescription meds for allergies, sunburns, etc.

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What can drivers do to prepare for summer driving hazards?

  • Expect Heavy Traffic:  Traffic delays on a Friday start earlier than any other day of the week, particularly when it’s sunny.  Typical delays begin at about 1pm and continue into the usual rush hour. Fender benders, lost drivers and heavy merging at on ramps can clog major roads – especially in urban centers where commuters and through traffic mix.
  • Stay Healthy:  Remember to keep hydrated but avoid any heavy meals to prevent drowsiness. Get consistent and quality rest at scheduled times. Eat a balanced diet.  Avoid adding to your stress levels.  Wear your seatbelt at all times when in your vehicle. 
  • Pack Smart: Keep a basic emergency kit stocked in the event of a breakdown. Key components may include a cell phone charger, water, snacks, necessary medications, first aid supplies and portable cooling devices, such as battery-powered fans.
  • Avoid distractions: There is no room for multi-tasking while driving because “driving is multitasking.” Driving involves a million small tasks, including watching the road, minding your speed, and being wary of other drivers. Distractions have no place in this demanding activity. Distractions don’t just mean cell phone or electronics use. Distractions can include everything from difficult passengers to talk radio programs that get you angry about social, political or religious hot topics. Keep your focus on the road — if you can’t, then pull over in a safe area for a break.
  • Slow down in rainstorms:  Hydroplaning is common in the summer with sudden downpours from thunder showers very typical in many parts of the country. You will need tires with plenty of tread depth to resist hydroplaning. So, if your current tires are nearly worn-out, get them replaced.  Increased levels of rain leave water on the road, which may cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles and hydroplane. The rain also erodes rock and dirt, destabilizing shoulders.
  • Don’t drive drowsy: Long drives, congestion, afternoon heat, prescription or OTC medications (for allergies, etc.), and “highway hypnosis” can all be causes of drowsiness. If your medication makes you drowsy or limits your concentration, plan your trips accordingly. It doesn’t make sense to take good care of your physical health while putting yourself and others in danger on the road. Also, if you feel yourself getting tired on the road, for whatever reason, rolling down your windows and blasting the radio is not enough. Get a drink of water, take a short nap (after finding an appropriate, safe place to park), or walk around outside of your vehicle to stimulate your body through exercise.  Many people will drive home on Sunday after a busy weekend without realizing how tired they have become. These drivers become a hazard to themselves and others on the road – watch out for vehicles unable to stay in their lane, drifting onto the shoulder, unable to maintain a consistent speed (slowing down and speeding up) – these drivers may be on the verge of falling asleep.
  • Take care of your vehicle:  Mechanical errors account for a small minority of car crashes, but it is still important to make sure that your vehicle is in good shape to avoid unexpected breakdowns.
    • Tires:
      • When roads get hot tires suffer; heat aggravates any existing problems with the rubber. Under-inflation causes friction and even more heat which will have an effect on any weak spots and causes punctures and blow-outs. Therefore, check your tire pressure regularly. Keeping your tires properly inflated can help improve gas mileage up to three percent. Be sure to check your tire pressure before you begin driving for the day. This allows you to get a cold pressure reading (the number commonly referenced in your owner’s manual).
      • One of the most common, but unexpected breakdowns is from flat tires.  If you attempt to change it yourself be very careful where you pull over. Make sure you are well away from on-coming traffic as you may not be visible if crouched down beside your wheel.
      • Tires with irregular wear or very low tread depths can contribute to problems in handling, stopping, steering and hydroplaning (skidding on top of standing rain water). Rotating tires regularly helps promote even wear and will help to spot troubles early.
    • Fluids:
      • Check your windshield wipers and wiper fluid: The combination of bad wipers and a summer downpour can leave you with no view of the road. Be sure you have plenty of wiper fluid to help keep your windshield clear of dirt and debris.
      • Change your motor oil regularly: Regular oil changes with the correct grade of motor oil can improve gas mileage up to two percent. Synthetic oils are best for high temperature driving conditions and for added protection when towing.
      • Clean your fuel system: This helps improve fuel economy and maximize engine performance by removing dirt and deposits from the fuel system.
      • Check your cooling system (radiator): It protects your engine from overheating in hot summer conditions. Follow your owner’s manual for regular maintenance.
    • Batteries: Batteries are more heavily stressed in cold AND hot weather.  Weak, older batteries may have trouble providing full charge and can crack or explode.
  • Fill the Tank: A well-fueled vehicle will keep you from being stranded with an empty tank on a hot day.
  • Increase your visibility:  Many collisions are caused by the glare on windshields caused by the sun, particularly at dawn or dusk. It’s also important to keep your windshield clean both inside and outside.  Dirt, grime and dead bug smears can obstruct your view so make sure there is plenty of fluid for your washers.  Since wiper blades last about a year so replace your wipers if necessary, both front and back (if applies).
  • Don’t overload your vehicle: Under-inflation of tires and/or overloading the vehicle will place added stress on your tires in the form of excessive heat build-up. Both of these conditions can adversely affect the vehicle’s handling and fuel economy. Visually inspect your tires. Look for abnormal signs of irregular wear around and across the tire tread area, and check the sidewalls for cuts and bulges. Irregular wear may be a sign of suspension misalignment. If you see any abnormalities in the tires, have the car and tires checked by a service professional. Don’t risk a blowout on the road, which at best can be inconvenient. At worst, it can upset handling and risk a dangerous situation.
  • Never Drink and Drive:  Hydrate with water – avoid sugary drinks and never drink alcohol before driving.

Summary

Summer driving is typically more pleasant and less stressful than winter driving since the roads are clear and (typically) dry.  However, the increased congestion and road construction present a different set of challenges.  Keep your cool, stay hydrated, be patient, plan alternate routes and make sure your vehicle is in top condition and you’ll be well on your way to a better trip than if you fail to plan ahead.  

Another traffic picSafetyFirst has prepared a full “Ten-Minute Training Topic” for this issue which include driver handouts, and presentations for your drivers.  It’s a “special edition” that is not included in our normal monthly calendar — so give us a call or email if you’d like us to send you the kit. 

SafetyFirst works with 3,800+ active clients in all SIC Divisions, and 75+ insurance providers to supply leading edge driver safety programs.

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