There is a heat wave sweeping across Europe and weather forecasters in the United States are predicting dangerous levels of heat in the South, West and Midwest, with some areas “ bracing for temperatures that could reach 110 degrees this week,” according to several articles in today’s New York Times and its newsletter The Morning. Officials in London, the newspaper noted, have asked people to stay home, saying that vehicles may overheat and rail tracks may buckle.
But high temperatures go beyond just making people uncomfortable and sweaty and the inconveniences of transportation delays. Heat also increases the risk of crashes. Stress from heat can cause drivers to concentrate less effectively, react more slowly, and as a result, make more driving errors.
Those are the highlights of an advisory released on Monday by DEKRA, a company based in Germany that conducts automotive testing, inspection and crash research, that addressed crash risk due to high temperatures.
The safety group offered a series of tips for driving in the heat:
- Get regular air conditioning check-ups, particularly before long road trips, as air conditioning is the most effective way of preventing high temperatures inside cars.
- Avoid heat build-up as much as possible. Park cars in cool underground garages or in shady spots, use sun shades and blinds, and open the doors for a few minutes before setting off. “For a quick cooldown after setting off, drivers are best advised to keep their windows closed, then set the air conditioning to recirculate air along with a high fan setting and low temperature, before readjusting these later. However, caution is recommended – motorists should not position the cold air to blow directly onto their bodies, otherwise they risk developing an unpleasant summer cold.”
- Avoid heat shock when getting out of the car. The vehicle’s interior should not be cooled down so much that there is excessive heat shock when getting out. To lessen the impact of temperature changes, sit with the car door open for a few minutes after stopping to slowly get acclimated to the outside heat.
- Never leave children or animals in cars, even for quick stops. “Strong sunlight can turn a vehicle into a furnace in a short space of time, and this can be life-threatening for a child,” Dekra researchers said. They also caution about the plastic casing on child seats, which can get very hot when exposed to direct sunlight and lead to children getting burned.
- Don’t drive barefoot or when wearing flip-flops, as it increases the risk of a crash; the foot is much more likely to slip off the pedal than if a shoe with a firm sole is worn. “Not being able to apply full braking power can increase the braking distance decisively, ” researchers said, which can have “fatal consequences.”
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