Eager to take a road trip this summer? Excited about getting behind the wheel and heading to a fun destination this season? Be aware that summertime can be a riskier period on the road with increased driving dangers. In fact, per the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), among the 10 deadliest driving days of the year, six of those days happen during the summer.
Learn why driving in the summer requires extra vigilance and preparation to keep you and your family safe.
What are the hazards of driving during the summer?
Multiple factors can increase your risk of an accident or adverse event while driving during the summer months. From intoxicated drivers and more pedestrians on the road to vacation traffic and heat emergencies, it’s essential to understand the various driving dangers that can arise on a road trip.
As is true of any season in the year, it’s also easy to get distracted behind the wheel in the summer.
“According to the recent Travelers Insurance Risk Index survey, 79% of people surveyed have made or received a phone call while behind the wheel, 74% have looked at map directions on a cell phone, and 56% have read a text message or email,” says Chris Hayes, assistant vice president of Transportation and Risk Control at Travelers Insurance. “A growing number of drivers are also taking to social media, with 25% admitting to recording videos or taking photos using their smartphone – a number that has increased since 2019.”
Below is a breakdown of some of the hazards you may encounter while on the road this summer.
Driving danger No. 1: Summer is road construction season
Many road construction projects are undertaken during the summer months as there are more daylight hours and warmer weather to enable road crews to finish their work. But construction areas present risks to drivers. If you are not paying attention to detour instructions, for example, you can veer off course and get lost. Worse, if you don’t slow down and stay alert, you may hit a road construction crew worker.
“Road construction can be unpredictable, especially if traveling in an unfamiliar area. If a driver is distracted by a map, they can’t devote their full attention to the construction, which can cause abrupt course changes,” says Kevin Quinn, vice president of Claims at Mercury Insurance.
Driving danger No. 2: Flash floods and monsoons
Summer increases the risk of extreme weather, including monsoons or sudden severe storms that can produce flash floods.
“You could encounter hurricane conditions in the South and East, monsoons in the Southwest, and wildfires in the West that can also cause extreme road hazards. Plus, severe thunderstorms with torrential rain and deadly lightning can occur at just about any time this summer and in many areas of the country,” says Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications for the Insurance Information Institute.
He says it’s important not to walk across or drive through flooded roads as you or your vehicle can easily be swept away by rushing floodwaters.
“More people die each year from flooding than any other weather hazard,” Friedlander says.
Driving danger No. 3: Overheated vehicles and glare
Your engine can overheat quickly when antifreeze/coolant is running low. Once it reaches a specific temperature, the metal components within your engine can melt and destroy it.
“Think about if this were to happen to you or a nearby motorist on the highway. This could lead to an expensive repair bill, or more drastically a crash resulting in an injury,” Quinn says.
Remember to check under the hood and top off all vital fluids, including engine coolant, before embarking on your road trip.
Sunlight glare can create dangerous driving conditions, too.
“Always wear appropriate eyewear, and keep extra sunglasses in the car. And make sure all rear and side-view mirrors are correctly adjusted for your needs,” says Rachel Davidson, owner of Brightway Insurance, The Rachel Davidson Agency.
Driving danger No. 4: Vacation traffic
Make no mistake: Many families have the same aspirations to hit the pavement and get away this summer. That means you can likely anticipate more congestion on the road in the middle of the year. And with more traffic comes the amplified risk of accidents.
Maintain a safe stopping distance between your car and the vehicle ahead of you, abide by the posted speed limit, and be patient if you encounter slowdowns during your journey.
Driving danger No. 5: Motorcycles on the road
When the weather heats up, you’ll find more motorcycles sharing the highways and byways. You may encounter a lone biker or a pack of riders. It’s easy to lose sight of motorcyclists drifting in your blind spots.
Look around carefully before changing lanes or turning, and keep a safe driving distance between you and a motorcycle in front of you in case you need to brake suddenly. Also, keep in mind that splitting lanes is legal in some states but not in others, so be vigilant when driving in other states.
Driving danger No. 6: Tire blowouts
A tire blowout can happen more easily when driving at higher speeds, Quinn says.
“When the air pressure inside a tire is too low, the rubber can flex too much and rupture. This causes the car’s steering to pull immediately and one way or another, which can lead to a major crash at highway speeds.”
Before beginning your journey, inspect your tires carefully.
“Check that you have the correct tire pressure and tread levels,” Friedlander says.
Also, ensure that you have a properly inflated spare or emergency tire packed in your vehicle, as well as a tire-changing kit.
Driving danger No. 7: Animals on the road
Summertime brings out more than lush foliage from Mother Nature. Wild animals like deer, raccoons, opossums, and rabbits are active too, often attempting to cross the road.
“Additionally, as the temperature rises and droughts persist, animals may travel beyond their normal habitats in search of water,” Quinn says.
Be on the lookout for the sudden appearance of animals, and be ready to brake quickly if necessary.
Driving danger No. 8: More teen drivers on the road
Teenage crash deaths occurred most commonly during June, July, and August, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While you can’t predict where and when a teenage driver may be present, be extra careful around any teen drivers you spot on the road. Remember that they have less experience behind the wheel and can be more easily distracted.
Driving danger No. 9: More pedestrians and bicyclists
It’s no surprise that pleasant summer weather brings more people outdoors, including those seeking exercise and recreation.
“The added visibility and consistent weather that appeal to drivers also appeal to pedestrians and bicyclists. Maintaining a safe distance from them and paying attention to your surroundings are the best ways to keep everyone safe,” Quinn says.
Always obey traffic signs, and yield to bicyclists and pedestrians: Give them the right-of-way and play it safe.
Tips for safer driving in the summer
Friedlander recommends taking smart precautions ahead of any planned trips to improve your odds of arriving safely and accident-free, including the following:
- Prepare your vehicle. “Get a multipoint inspection by a certified mechanic, who should inspect the condition of all belts and hoses, change the oil, top off all fluids, check the tire tread levels, tire pressure, windshield wiper blades, headlights/taillights, and the air conditioning system,” he says.
- Map out your trip. Before leaving, enter plan destinations into your vehicle’s GPS system or a smartphone navigation app. “This will provide you with real-time updates on travel time and save you from searching for addresses at the last minute,” Friedlander says.
- Plan frequent breaks. Build in planned respites throughout the entire journey, stopping to take a short break every few hours to stretch your legs. Switch drivers after a while, too.
- Monitor weather conditions. Check the weather forecast before hitting the road and while on your journey.
“The purpose of a summer road trip is to have a positive, fun, and memorable experience with your family,” Friedlander says. “The last thing you want is to encounter a vehicle breakdown because you didn’t get your car checked out before hitting the road, or getting lost because you didn’t properly map out your trip, or getting stranded because the road washed out due to a flash flood you weren’t aware of.”
What should I keep in my car’s emergency kit?
In addition, packing an emergency kit in your trunk, complete with crucial supplies, is a must. The Insurance Information Institute recommends including the following items in your emergency kit:
- Cellphone and car charger
- First aid kit
- Jumper cables
- Road flares and hazard triangle
- Spare tire and jack lug nut wrench
- Screwdrivers and wrenches
- Tire pressure gauge
- Gloves, blankets and towels
- Non-perishable food items (nuts, whole or dried fruit, snack bars, etc.)
- Bottled water
“Also, make sure you bring along up-to-date auto insurance ID cards and any necessary medicines, such as an EpiPen, for yourself and your family members,” Davidson says.
Resources & Methodology
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Fatality Facts 2020: Teenagers.” Accessed March 2023.
- U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Trend and Pattern Analysis of Highway Crash Fatality By Month and Day.” Accessed March 2023.