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COVID-19: How to manage your personal automobile

By Laura Adams

Follow these safety tips to stay safe on the roads during the pandemic and minimize your risk of picking up the virus.

A car’s steering wheel has four times more bacteria than a toilet seat because most people clean their bathrooms more regularly than they clean their cars. (Photo by Getty Images)

As the world hunkers down to ride out the novel coronavirus crisis, some of us still need to venture out, even if it is just to do a quick grocery run. When you do go out, follow these driving safety tips to stay safe on the roads and minimize your risk of picking up the virus.

Disinfect your vehicle

Your hands touch a lot of things every day and any germs you and your passengers pick up get transferred to your car. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a car’s steering wheel has four times more bacteria than a toilet seat. That’s because most people clean their toilets more regularly than they clean their cars. The study found that only 32% of car owners regularly clean and sanitize their cars.

Disinfectants that contain at least 70% alcohol are effective in killing coronavirus. Wipe surfaces like door handles, the dashboard, steering wheel, gear selector, signal lever, electric window buttons, stereo buttons, infotainment displays, armrests, AC controls and vents, cup holders, and the glove compartment. Avoid using chemicals like bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and ammonia-based products as these will damage your car’s interior.

Can’t find hand sanitizer?

But what if you can’t find sanitizer and wipes at the grocery store, or you’re on a shipping waiting list? That’s has been a problem for so many consumers these days.

Helen Boehm Johnson, MD, physician and consultant in the infection prevention and control field, recommends using microfiber cloths to clean your vehicle. She says, “Their split fiber design creates a larger surface area for microbe removal. Plus, the net positive charge generated when they’re used attracts negatively-charged dirt and microorganisms.”

Rubbermaid’s Hygen microfiber line is an excellent example of what every driver should have on hand. They can be used dry or damp and tout removing 99.9% of microbes. You can even launder these microfiber cloths up to 200 times with bleach or 500 times without it.

Practice safe driving

In these uncertain times, panic buying has set in. In desperation to stockpile supplies, people may drive too fast or allow road rage to set in as they rush to the stores. First, don’t panic buy. Clearing out supermarket stock disrupts and places strain on the supply chain

Second, if and when you do need to go to the store, to an appointment, or to a drive-thru testing center, don’t be anxious. Anxiety will only lead to driving errors and increase your risk of a car accident. Stay calm and continue to practice safe driving. Remain alert, don’t drink and drive, and don’t drive distracted.

If you’re ill — even if it’s just the common cold — stay home. Certain medications can cause drowsiness and impair your driving ability. Plus, being ill lowers your immune system making you more susceptible to a more serious infection like coronavirus.

Be cautious in parking lots

Did you know that one in five car accidents happen in parking lots? This is largely attributed to distracted driving. In a poll by the National Safety Council, 66% of drivers said they would make phone calls and 56% said they would text while driving through parking lots.

Mental distractions, like being preoccupied with the stress of a global pandemic, can also take your attention away from potential hazards. Parking lots have pedestrians and cars pulling in and backing out, so keep your guard up when driving in parking lots.

Minimize your road trip risk

International travel bans are in place around the world. However, in the U.S. you can travel by car, although shorter trips are advisable. If, however, a long-distance road trip is unavoidable, take the following precautions:

  • Only use public restrooms when absolutely necessary and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

  • Keep hand sanitizers in your car and use them after every interaction in shops, restaurants, or drive-thrus.

  • Pack your own eats rather than stop at restaurants.

  • Sanitize your hands after using the fuel pump at gas stations.

  • If you need to stay at a hotel, disinfect the surfaces in your room and stay in your room to avoid contact with hotel guests and staff.

Adhere to COVID-19 regulations

Whether at home or on a road trip, adhere to the state’s COVID-19 regulations. If curfews or lockdowns are in place, follow them.

Florida, for instance, has seen spring breakers ignore precautions saying they’re not going to allow the virus to stop them from partying. Already, five students from the University of Tampa who traveled together during spring break have tested positive for coronavirus. Regulations are in place for a reason. This is not the standard flu virus. This is more serious and more deadly.

Renew your drivers license online

If you need to renew your driver’s license or vehicle registration, do so online. The Department of Motor Vehicles has shortened their hours and limited the number of people allowed into the building at one time. The DMV in Texas has stopped in-person appointments altogether They are currently only offering services via phone, email, regular mail, or online. If you aren’t successful at renewing your license online, several states including California, Florida, and Texas are granting a 30-60 day extension period.

No one knows how long this pandemic will last. For now, the best course of action is to self-isolate as much as possible. If you do go out, keep a safe distance from others, remember to wash your hands thoroughly, and avoid touching your face.

Laura Adams ([email protected]) is a safety and education analyst at Aceable, a mobile-first education platform for certification and training courses, from driver’s education and defensive driving to real estate pre-license school. The piece published first on the Aceable website and is reproduced here with permission.


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