Summertime Driving: Staying Safe in the Most Dangerous Time of Year
Summer weather has come around once again, and many people are hitting the roads to see friends and family, and to visit their favorite vacation spots. However, summer is also the riskiest season to drive in the US. A variety of factors influence driving safety in the summer. Being aware of them can reduce the risks associated with daily driving and long-distance travel.
The Dangers of Summer Driving
It is natural to think that winter would be the most dangerous season for driving, particularly if you live in an area known for icy roads and freezing weather. However, summer is actually the season that poses the greatest risk of suffering a driving accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In the United States, summer unofficially begins on Memorial Day weekend – this also starts a huge upswing in traffic as people go on vacation or visit friends and family while they’re off from work or school.
But summer is also when many teenagers begin driving consistently in preparation for the upcoming bustle of their next school year. According to the New York Department of Health, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for US teenagers. The Memorial Day – Labor Day stretch is the deadliest timeframe for all drivers aged 15 to 20.
Furthermore, summer is often the season when the U.S. experiences the greatest number of thunderstorms and rainy weather. Wet roads can cause unsafe conditions, and many drivers don’t know how to adequately counteract the effects of hazards like hydroplaning.
Factors That Affect Driving Safety in the Summer
- Rainy weather
- Increased traffic
- An influx of inexperienced drivers
- Family driving – increased driving distractions
- More bicyclists and pedestrians thanks to warm weather
Summer Driving Accidents: Just the Facts
Summer is the most dangerous season for driving, as the stats show:
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of all unintentional deaths or hospitalizations for teens aged 16 to 17 in New York State
- 30% of all New York teenage driver deaths aged 16 to 17 occur during the month of June, July and August
- Teenagers have lower rates of seatbelt use
- Nearly half of crashes are caused by driver errors rather than reckless driving (i.e. inexperience is a main cause of accidents)
- More than two-thirds of New York State teen crash deaths involve someone other than the driver
- Crash risk is highest for teens during the first year of unsupervised driving
- Male drivers are more likely to be involved, hurt or injured in a crash compared to females
- According to a 2009 national survey conducted by SADD and the Liberty Mutual Group, 85% of teenagers believe they or their peers are more likely to drink and drive during the summer
- In total, over 9,000 fatal motor vehicle crashes occurred through the months of June through August in 2018
Summer Vehicle Safety Issues
In addition to general driving hazards and accidents, summer presents other dangers, particularly to children. Heatstroke can occur when children are left unattended in parked vehicles that overheat in direct sunshine. Vehicles can heat up very quickly according to the NHSTA, and the same source indicates that 52 children died of vehicular heatstroke in 2019.
How to Prepare Your Car for Summer Driving
There are ways in which you can prepare your car to better weather the hazards of summer driving and lower the likelihood of an accident.
Cars should always be equipped with emergency kits, which may include water bottles, Band-Aids, general medical supplies, flashlights, jumper cables, and a phone charger. Other supplies worth including are:
- A jack to change a tire
- Extra windshield washer fluid
- Basic repair tools
- A tire pressure gauge
Furthermore, drivers will want to check their tires for air pressure and tread. Air pressure is particularly important since a proper amount of air pressure both lowers the risk of a flat tire and improves fuel efficiency.
All drivers should also follow excellent car maintenance standards. Take your car in for a mechanical check before the busy summer driving season to avoid missing something simple, like an oil change.
Good Summer Driving Practices
Young children go outside much more frequently during the summer months. Because of this, drivers need to be extra cautious and check their surroundings before backing out of a driveway or parking spot. This lowers the likelihood of accidentally hitting someone.
While many summer driving trips will be taken with family and friends in tow, safe driving requires attention to the road. Drivers should always keep cell phones off and out of reach. Passengers should avoid any behavior distracting to the driver. Additionally, drivers should rely on “copilots” or responsible passengers to keep them alert and aware if they’re facing a long trip.
When it’s raining, drivers should slow down. Wet roads offer approximately 75% of the traction provided by dry pavement. So, even careful driving, good tires and proper speed can be compromised. When roads become heavily wetted, drivers must be aware of the risk of hydroplaning. This occurs when water under tires lifts them at speed, literally separated the rubber from the road. Skids, slides and the inability to steer then happen. The first 10 minutes of a rainstorm is the most likely window where damp roads are dangerous. Heavy, prolonged rain and puddles increase the likelihood of hyrdroplaning. To avoid the dangers of both:
- Keep your tires inflated correctly
- Slow down during the first few minutes of a thunderstorm or any rainy weather
- Try to avoid driving in outer lanes, as water tends to accumulate in those lanes
- Drive in tire tracks left by cars ahead of your own vehicle
- Don’t rely on cruise control
- Drive in a lower gear if applicable
- Avoid sharp turns when possible
Teen Safety and New York Graduated Driver Licensing Laws
All teen drivers should follow New York laws to the letter to drive safely during the summer months (and beyond). Relevant laws include:
- No unsupervised nighttime driving between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during intermediate driving student stages
- All passengers riding in a car with a teen driver must be seat-belted
- No transporting more than one passenger younger than 21, unless a parent or guardian is also present
- No handheld cell phones whatsoever for any driver regardless of age
- No texting while driving
Following these rules produces real results; hospitalization rates for 16 and 17-year-old drivers have decreased by 50% since these rules were instituted in 2003.
Driving Safe During the Summer
Ultimately, safe summer driving relies on preparation and smart driving practices. Teenage drivers should be particularly careful, and parents should ensure their teens are prepared for driving and its requisite responsibilities before they take off for vacation. Summer can be a fun season, but only if you’re careful and drive safely.