It’s easy to see why summer is the most popular season for driving. There’s nothing like sitting next to an open car window and letting a mild breeze slip through your hair on the way to your destination. But before the many summer car rides you’re sure to enjoy this year, it’s important to take care of your vehicle and keep safety top of mind. AAA has you covered on both fronts with these summer driving safety tips.
Get Your Car Ready
Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires are a few common reasons for breakdowns. Some of the most important summer driving safety tips highlight car care that can help prevent such problems.
- Have your vehicle’s air conditioning system checked before the start of the season.
- Batteries have a typical lifespan of about three to five years. Drivers should have their batteries tested at the three-year mark, and on an annual basis going forward. AAA provides members with free battery testing.
- Keeping your tires in good shape is important because they’re the only parts of your car that touch the ground. Drivers should check each tire’s tread depth, inflation and overall condition at the start of every season. “Look for cracking, bulging or breaks,” said John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor. Such damage can cause blowouts when vehicles are traveling on hot pavement at highway speeds. Tires should be inflated to manufacturer specifications (the number on the driver’s doorjamb, not the number on the tire), and treads should be at least 4/32-inch deep. You can check tread depth with a quarter. Insert the coin with Washington’s head facing down; if you can’t see the top of his head, there’s enough tread.
- Scorching summer temperatures put serious stress on engines. “Make sure the cooling system is ready by having it flushed on a regular basis and using manufacturer-recommended coolant,” said Robert Sinclair, senior manager of public affairs for AAA Northeast. Coolant, also known as antifreeze, has anti-corrosion chemicals to prevent rust buildup inside the engine. Getting rid of old coolant, flushing the engine with fresh water and filling it the proper mixture of the coolant formula and water, along with checking hoses and belts, will help a vehicle stand the test of hot summer driving. Remember to never remove the cap from a hot radiator.
- Drivers should also check their vehicles’ transmission, power steering and windshield wiper fluids, and make sure all brake lights, headlights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights are working.
- Getting locked out of your car is never fun, though it’s especially troublesome when all you want to do is escape the heat. Lockouts persist despite advances in key technology. Motorists should take special care of smart keys and keyless entry fobs. Always take these with you when exiting the car, avoid exposing them to water and replace batteries as recommended by vehicle manufacturers. If you do get locked out, AAA Roadside Assistance is available 24/7 to help.
Get Yourself Ready
Summer presents plenty of traffic safety concerns that, if ignored, can turn a dream ride into a nightmare. Motorists should keep these summer driving safety tips top of mind before hitting the road.
- The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is known as the 100 Deadliest Days because it is historically when the country sees an increase of fatal crashes among teenagers. AAA recommends that now is a good time for parents to both model safe driving behaviors and help ensure their teens practice them, too.
- Whether traveling 5 or 500 miles, every driver should carry an emergency kit with important items like a mobile phone charger, a flashlight with extra batteries, a first aid kit, drinking water, extra snacks and food, booster cables, emergency flares or reflectors, windshield wiper fluid and a basic toolkit with a tire pressure gauge and adjustable wrench.
- Sun glare can be a serious hazard. A sweet pair of sunglasses will help you look wicked cool, and it’ll help you deal with bright summer sun. Polarized lenses reduce glare. You’ll also benefit from keeping your windshield clean. Dirt and streaks are especially pronounced under strong light.
- Flip flops are fine for the beach, but they’re not the best footwear for driving. The straps and flimsy soles can easily get caught under the pedals.
- Tying a surfboard, cooler or a week’s worth of camping supplies to your vehicle’s roof rack? Make sure you review its weight limit first, and check your route for any height restrictions.
- Avoid distractions. For parents, that can be children in the backseat who are arguing with each other or using mobile devices. For any driver, it can be the temptation to use a cellphone behind the wheel. If you have to make a call or send a text, find a safe place to pull over.
- Turn on your headlights during twilight hours to make it easier for other drivers to see you.
- Never leave children or pets in the car unattended. Temperatures inside a vehicle can spike dangerously high in just a few minutes. Even if the outside temperature is 60 degrees, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach 110 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Avoid eating behind the wheel. Enjoy snacks at rest areas or stop at restaurants for meals.
- Don’t leave food or drinks inside your car on a hot day, especially canned beverages, which can explode under high temperatures. The same goes for hairspray or canned deodorant.
- When packing, distribute weight evenly in and atop your vehicle. Don’t pack items in any spot that obstructs your view, or your mirrors.
Some drivers embarking on long road trips are tempted to make the best time possible, but getting to your destination quickly is never worth jeopardizing safety. Crash risks for sleep-deprived drivers increase steadily compared to those who get seven or more hours of sleep. Missing just two to three hours of sleep in a 24-hour period can quadruple a driver’s crash risk, and drivers who have slept less than five hours have crash risks comparable to drunken drivers.
Here are some summer driving safety tips to stay alert and safe behind the wheel.
- One of the best ways to avoid drowsy driving is to get enough sleep. More than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experience no symptoms before falling asleep.
- Drivers who start to experience drowsiness should find a safe place to pull over and rest. Symptoms include having trouble keeping your eyes open, drifting between lanes, not being able to remember the last few miles, yawning, missing exits or street signs and feeling irritable or restless.
- On longer drives, stop every couple of hours for a break.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of driving at night, when your body is accustomed to rest.
- Avoid eating heavy foods.
- Travel with alert passengers and take turns driving. When it’s not your turn, Paul recommends sitting in the backseat because many front seat passengers become passive drivers, inhibiting their ability to get valuable rest.
- Know your route. Today, most drivers rely on GPS to provide directions and traffic information. Like any technology, however, you should be prepared in case your device loses its signal or malfunctions. Researching your route before you leave and carrying a physical road map are two critically important summer driving tips.
Share the Road
- Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. That includes riding in traffic lanes.
- Watch for kids near obvious places, like playgrounds, but also keep an eye out for kids flocking to ice cream trucks or chasing stray balls.
- When you’re driving next to a motorcycle, it helps to envision the body of a vehicle around it, Paul said. That’ll help you maintain a safe traveling distance.
What other summer driving tips did we leave out? How do you stay safe on the road? Tell us in the comments below.