By Jil McIntosh

Recently, in the heat of World Cup fever, I saw a young man who had tucked the edges of a full-size flag into the sunroof of his car. The idea, apparently, was that it would billow out as he drove, like Superman’s cape.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. This particular rocket scientist almost got rear-ended when he slammed on his brakes in the middle of the road; his flag had come forward, completely covering his windshield.

That same day, I counted four others who stopped at equally inopportune moments, and one who actually ran out into oncoming traffic, to rescue smaller window-mounted stick flags that had loosened and blown off. Fortunately, no harm was done this time, but such a windborne object could cause other drivers to panic and cause collisions, or could hit a motorcyclist in the face.

We’re all a bit more laid back when summer comes, and it’s easy to forget vehicle safety concerns. Here are some important ones to consider:

  • Never leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle, not even “for a moment”. According to a study published in Pediatrics magazine, an average of 42 children die each year in the U.S. from being left in hot cars. The study showed that even at an outside temperature of only 22C, the inside of a vehicle reached 47C; at 35C, the car’s interior reached 67C, enough to cause a child’s brain damage or death. The car’s interior temperature rose fastest within the first 30 minutes, and leaving the windows opened slightly did not significantly slow the temperature rise or decrease the interior temperature.

  • Don’t leave your car unlocked in the driveway, where it can be a tempting playground for children.
  • Don’t let your dog hang his head out the window; he could be hurt by debris, such as flying gravel or bugs. The safest place for your dog is in a pet harness attached to a seatbelt. A pet sitting on a front seat passenger’s lap can be killed if the airbag deploys.
  • Be aware of your car’s airbags. Don’t ride with your feet on the dash; don’t put objects on the dash; never ride without a seatbelt on; and if your vehicle has curtain airbags, don’t ride with your arm out the window.
  • Don’t attach novelty items to the outside of your vehicle. If it’s easy to attach, it can just as easily detach and create a hazard. Objects hanging off your rear-view mirror can affect your visibility: remember, your windshield is transparent for a reason.
  • Pack your vehicle carefully. Cargo shouldn’t be piled above the rear seat; in a collision it can fly forward with deadly force. Secure pickup truck and trailer loads, and never think your trip is too short to matter. We’ve all seen people with mattresses or plywood sheets balanced on the roof, with the driver reaching out and holding a corner. Guess what good that’ll do if the load shifts.
  • Summer vacation means more people driving in unfamiliar territory. Be cautious around cars with out-of-province plates, especially if the occupants look like they’re searching for something. If you’re the one lost, pull over to read the map; if you miss your exit, go to the next one, rather than backing up or cutting across traffic.

On the bright side, in just another few months, it’ll be all over and we’ll just have to worry about ice and snow.

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