Summertime brings warm weather, sunshine, no school and the opportunity to take a road trip or two, which means the chance to spend even more time with friends and family. Summer road trips have long been an American pastime for vacationers – an easy way to travel to national parks, historical sites, visit new cities (or old ones) and experience some good old-fashioned Americana along the way.
One might assume that better weather conditions during the summer make the roads safer, but it’s actually the opposite. Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association reveal that the summer months – Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend – are the most dangerous time of year (link opens in new tab) to be on the road.
There are a number of factors that contribute to summer being the most dangerous time to be on the road.
1. Young Drivers
School’s out and the influx of young drivers on roadways is one of the reasons why summertime driving is more dangerous than when school is in session.
Teen drivers are among the most inexperienced on the road and they’re also more likely to take risks, like speeding or using a smartphone while driving. One out of every ten teen driving fatalities (link opens in new tab) is caused by distracted driving. Education and leading by example are the best methods to encourage your teens to drive safely. Mercury Insurance offers road trip safety tips to help prepare both parents and young drivers before teens hit the road.
More and more Americans are choosing to take domestic vacations. The New York Times cites that close to 14 million vacations were taken domestically in 2017, with families listing flexibility as one of the top reasons for choosing an all-American road trip. Yes, road trips can be convenient, however, with many Americans choosing to pack up the car and hit the open road, things can get quite congested. More cars on the road traveling more miles translates to a greater chance of getting into a collision, so carefully consider when you schedule your travel plans and where the road will take you.
Summertime is also construction time in many cold weather states. Road construction can cause delays as well as fender-benders, posing added risks for summertime drivers with bottlenecked traffic, reduced speed limits, lane and off-ramp closures and workers present on roadways.
GPS technology warns drivers of slow-downs and construction zones along their route. Be sure to pay attention while driving through construction zones, obey the posted speed limit and watch out for workers.
4. Vehicle Maintenance
Roadside breakdowns are not uncommon during summer travel. They can create dangerous situations when the breakdown occurs in an inconvenient spot like around a curve, on an exit-ramp or in the middle of the roadway, creating a hazard for you and fellow drivers. One preventative measure drivers can take is to keep up with vehicle maintenance.
Have a mechanic give your car a tune-up before your next road trip and add fluids if needed. Summer temperatures can cause your engine to overheat, so it’s important to make sure your cooling system is in good working order and your fluid is topped-off. Bald tires can easily blow out when you are driving, which could potentially lead to an accident. Check your tires by placing a penny in the tread; if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, you should replace them before your road trip.
5. Dehydration and Weather Considerations
Warm summer weather generally makes it much easier to travel than slogging your way through winter snow and ice, but it also comes with its own hazards. Extreme heat can cause drowsiness and dehydration, making driver fatigue a concern. Be sure to keep water on hand and pull over if you start to get tired. Sun glare can impair your visibility and sometimes creates distracting optical illusions on the road. If you are driving toward the sun, wearing sunglasses can help improve visibility and prevent sun blindness.
Heavy summer rainfall can also create problems for drivers – parts of Florida, for example, will experience torrential downpours daily between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Summer thunderstorms are not uncommon in many states and flash flooding should be a serious concern for drivers. Do your research while planning your road trip route so you’ll know what weather conditions to expect.
6. Sharing the Road with Motorcyclists and Bicyclists
Warmer weather also means more motorcyclists and bicyclists will be sharing the roadways, and these two-wheeled travelers are often difficult to see. Be extra vigilant in checking your blind spots before making a turn or switching lanes. Watch out for motorcyclists splitting lanes or passing, as well as for bicyclists on the roadside, especially when the shoulders on the side of the road are narrow or there is no bicycle lane.
Road trip season is about to kick into full swing and before you pull out of your driveway, pack a vehicle emergency kit…just in case. If you break down on the side of the road, triangles and road flares will help you alert other drivers to your presence ahead of time. It’s also a great idea to take inventory and restock your kit with any missing essentials before the summer road trip season. Take these recommendations into consideration and drive safely no matter where the road takes you this summer.