Memorial Day is fast approaching, and with it, the unofficial first day of summer. Although driving in the summer may seem less scary than taking your car out on icy, snow covered roads, summer driving can be just as dangerous.
In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), August had the second highest number of fatal car crashes in 2014. And in both June and July, over 2,800 deadly accidents occurred. In contrast, February, a month associated with snowstorms in many parts of the country, had the least number of deaths from car accidents.
Turns out, it's more than just the heat that makes summer a dangerous time to be out on the road. Here are a few things to be aware of when you're driving:
It's no surprise that summer is a popular time for people to go on vacation. This means there are usually more tourists if you're in a popular destination area. Even if not, you'll still face increased congestion on the highway from people going on a road trip or to a nearby beach or park.
In general, summer tends to bring people out. Even if you're not headed to a vacation destination, chances are you'll be encountering more cars on the road.
The roads may seem more crowded for another reason: teens are out of school. Not only does this add to the traffic, but teens are considered the highest risk drivers of all age groups. Although they have quick reaction times, teens don't have as much experience driving as their older peers and are more likely to drive recklessly than other age groups.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drivers aged 15 to 24 account for 30 percent of the total costs of car injuries for males, and 28 percent for females.
More cyclists and motorcyclists hit the road once the weather starts getting nicer. This again adds to the summer traffic. Serious injuries and fatalities are more common on two wheeled vehicles. The IIHS reports that in 2013 motorcyclists were involved in 26 times more fatal accidents than cars.
In many parts of the country, summer brings hot weather. This heat can dehydrate drivers, and do a number on your car. Your engine has a greater chance of overheating, especially if you use your air conditioner heavily during the warmer months.
The hot weather is also responsible for an increased number of tire blowouts. The warm temperatures cause tires to inflate, which increases the likelihood of a tire failing.
Children on the roads
The combination of nicer weather and no school means more children are likely to be outside. Cars may swerve sharply in order to avoid getting too close to a child, which could result in more accidents.
The glare from the sun can hinder your vision, increasing the chance of a crash. Make sure to wear sunglasses and keep your windshield clean to reduce glare.
It can seem like construction goes on every day of the summer, so much so that summer is often nicknamed "construction season." This uptick in construction can cause an increase in traffic, as well as debris on the road. Always make sure to slow down when driving near a construction site to avoid hitting workers.
Safe Summer Driving Tips
One of the most important things to do if you'll be driving more during the summer is to make sure you have enough car insurance. Besides buying the mandatory liability insurance, you may want to consider getting comprehensive and collision coverage.
This way, if you do get in an accident, you'll know you'll at least be financially covered.
Besides buying insurance, there are a number of other things drivers can do to stay safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends doing the following to stay protected:
Don't drink and drive
According to the CDC, 28 people die in the U.S. every day from a car accident involving an alcohol-impaired driver. Driving under the influence harms not only the driver, but their passengers and anyone else they come across on the road.
Wear a seat belt
Buckle up every time you drive, and enforce this rule for your passengers. Seat belts reduce your risk of injury in a car accident by around 50 percent. And in every state but New Hampshire, it's illegal for drivers and passengers in the front seat to not wear a seatbelt.
Regular car maintenance
Hotter summer temperatures can cause increased car issues. You can avoid unexpected problems by performing preventive maintenance on your car.
- Check the air pressure in your tires once a month, and make sure your tire tread isn't too worn down. Keep a spare tire in your car, and maintain the air pressure
- The hot weather can destroy your wiper blades. Look for any signs of wear and tear.
- Keep an eye on your car's coolant level
- Check your car's fluid levels for your brakes, windshield washer fluid, power steering, automatic transmission or clutch
Keep children safe
Watch out for children on the streets, who are more likely to be outside in the summer. Keep your kids protected by making sure they have the necessary car or booster seats. Children 13 and younger are safer sitting in the back seat of the car. And of course, make sure they buckle up.
Don't drive and text. Or Snapchat. Or Facebook
Avoid anything that can distract you for even a few seconds from driving. Besides being a safety hazard, using your phone while driving is illegal in many states, and could lead to a fine.
Share the road
As mentioned earlier, there are more pedestrians (including children), bikers, and motorcyclists on the road during the summer. Leave about four seconds of distance between your car and a motorcycle. Remember to use your signal when turning, and keep an eye out for others using your rear view and side view mirrors.
Don't leave a child alone in a car, ever, especially in the summer. If left unattended in a hot car, the child could suffer from heatstroke.
The NHTSA notes that children's body temperatures rise three to five times more quickly than an adult. This coupled with the fact that the temperature inside of a car can surge in just a few minutes makes children particularly vulnerable to heatstroke. Your car can heat up quickly even if you leave the car windows rolled down.
Keep a roadside emergency kit handy. This can include items like:
- Cell phone chargers
- Jumper cables