Summer is no time to take a vacation from safety. Make sure you reach your vacation spot safely by preparing your vehicle, your passengers and yourself for hot-weather travel.
July and August aren't just the dog days of summer. They also can be the deadliest of times on our roads.
To be sure, there are other times of year; around the Holidays in November and December, particularly, that may rack up more crashes. But the crashes in July and August appear to have especially deadly consequences.
So the summer is no time to take a vacation from safety.
Here are MSN Autos' tips on how to keep you-and those who ride with you during these warm months-safe.
Get a vehicle check-up
Summer driving conditions are often hot and stressful on equipment. So, maintaining the mechanical systems of your car or light truck now can mean peace of mind during summer road trips. Preventive maintenance is definitely the key.
Before heading out on a long vacation drive, be sure your vehicle is ready for it. Have your vehicle's major systems inspected to avoid nasty surprises on the road. Among the major items to have checked are:
Failures in the cooling system are a major cause of vacation breakdowns. Be sure to check for leaks in the radiator and for cracks, leaks and swelling in the rubber cooling system hoses. It is also wise to replace the antifreeze if it's more than two years old.
Certainly, don't forget to get this system checked. Be sure the compressor is working properly and isn't making strange noises. This could indicate a compressor that's about to die. Also, ensure that your system has enough refrigerant.
Tires, steering and suspension:
Winter potholes take their toll on tires, steering and suspension components. Steering or brake pull can indicate suspension problems or the need for a front-end alignment. Check the tires for dangerous sidewall breaks and excessive or uneven tread wear. Worn tires don't provide sufficient traction, especially in summer's heavy rainstorms. Make sure the tire pressure in each of your tires matches that recommended by the auto manufacturer. It is critical for your safety to match the recommended pressures for your vehicle when loaded. Be it with passengers, gear, luggage, cargo or all that precedes, a common occurrence during this season. Recent tire safety issues have shown how important this can be. And finally, don't forget to check that your spare tire is also correctly inflated.
A battery can fail at any time, even in summer. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) advises that batteries more than two or three years old be checked for strength so you avoid inconvenient and costly breakdowns. You should make sure connections between the battery cables and terminals are tight and free of any corrosion.
A long winter in a climate where road salt is used can lead to brake damage. Now is the time to get those brakes serviced. Even if you haven't been in a road-salt area in the winter, check to see when your vehicle's brakes were last inspected. If it has been more than 20 000 kilometres or six months since the last time the brakes were checked, get them inspected. Make sure the inspection includes all brake linings and pads. The hydraulic system should also be looked over for leaks. A sponginess in the brake pedal, a tendency to pull to one side when braking, or a drop in the master cylinder's fluid level reservoir can all signify a problem and the need for maintenance or service.
Engine drive belts:
Engine drive belts operate important parts attached to your engine, such as the alternator, water pump and air conditioner compressor. Belts should be checked for cracks, dry rot, glazing, uneven wear or frayed edges, and replaced if wear is detected. If these belts slip or break it could mean a breakdown, loss of air conditioning, engine overheating or worse, loss of steering. The condition of the timing or overhead cam drive belt(s) is also important, since when these break, they can cause immediate and potentially expensive internal engine damage.
Summer days are long and bring more daylight hours, but you still want to make sure your vehicle headlights, taillights, blinkers, fog lights and brake lights are in good working order.
Be sure your system is working properly and is free from leaks.
Managing Stress is Important
At this time of year, you can bet you won't be the only one on the road. So be sure to leave plenty of time to get to your destination. Don't wait until the last second to head out, and plan your travel time realistically. Check local traffic conditions, weather and current road work as carefully as possible.
Before that long drive, get in the proper frame of mind by practicing stress-management techniques. When you sit down in the driver seat, take a moment before starting the car. Take deep breaths, not shallow ones. Pull the air in deeply, hold it a second or two, and then exhale long and strongly. Use your diaphragm.
As you clear your lungs and body of bad air, clear your mind of your stresses. Resolve not to think of them while you're in the car. Instead, pledge to focus on the drive and your responsibility behind the wheel to keep yourself and everyone else in the car safe. Consider turning off that cell phone while you're in the car, too, so you can avoid distractions and further stress. And listen to relaxing tunes.
As you drive, be sure to look far down the road, not just at the bumper of the vehicle in front of you. This will help you better control your car by giving you a view of what's ahead. It also will help you prepare for sudden stops or traffic backups.
Carry Emergency Gear
Winter isn't the only time to carry emergency gear. A breakdown can occur at any time, and it's best to be prepared.
In summer, along with the usual emergency kit items of a blanket, flashlight, rags, a red cloth or flag, reflective warning signs, you also should have bottled water, extra coolant and oil.
Extra food is good, too, especially if you're traveling with youngsters. And don't forget to bring the cell phone and an extra phone battery.
The Fatigue Factor
Don't drive if you're drowsy. Take regular breaks every couple of hours if you need them; the kids may need breaks too. Share the driving, if possible, with someone new at the wheel every three hours, according to safety experts.
At least ten percent of drowsy drivers speed while driving, according to an official at the National Sleep Foundation (U.S.). And there's a tendency to be irritable and impatient at the wheel when you're fatigued.
There are even worse consequences if you fall asleep while driving, of course. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates at least 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year in the United States are the result of drivers falling asleep.
You know that you're fatigued when you start drifting from your lane, hitting rumble strips, yawning repeatedly, having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open, missing road signs or tailgating.
One additional note from the Sleep Foundation: Don't assume just because your teenager is young that he or she has plenty of energy to drive alertly. A report from the foundation says today's teens need 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep a night but are getting far less. A typical 19-year-old, for example, averages only seven hours and 4 minutes of sleep per night.
The foundation estimates that half of the 100,000 crashes each year that are attributed to sleepy drivers involve young drivers.
Adhere to Safe Driving Practices
Don't drink and drive, as a cardinal rule, and then always remember that lack of sleep can heighten alcohol's effect. Drinking any alcohol increases the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. When you are very tired, one drink feels like four or five. Review your medications, too. Be sure they don't impair your ability to drive.
Make sure you and all your passengers are properly buckled before you start the vehicle. Adjust vehicle head restraints to just about even with the top of the ears of each passenger. In this position and locked into place, the restraints can provide protection during a rear-end crash.
Keep children age 12 and under in the back seat, away from frontal airbags that may cause injury or death to little ones. And be sure they're seated safely, as needed, in child seats or on booster seats.
Secure heavy suitcases and summer gear so they don't
become dangerous projectiles in a crash.
Keep your gas tank full. It may be necessary for you to change routes along the way, or you may be caught in a traffic delay caused by highway construction, a crash etc.
And have yourself a great summer!