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What you need to know about driving safely after quarantine

Posted May 21, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

As North Carolina begins to slowly reopen, there will be more people on the road than there have been in recent months. As people resume regular routines, road safety should be of paramount importance. (kvd design/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Whitley Law Firm.

Businesses and offices are slowly reopening as stay-at-home restrictions ease in North Carolina and there will be more people on the roads than many of us have experienced in recent months.

Though regional traffic will most likely not be what it once was for a few more weeks, a vehicle accident can happen at any time. As we start to resume our regular routines, safety should continue to be of paramount importance, especially if it is your first time driving in weeks.

Keep the following tips in mind to protect yourself, other drivers and other passengers on the road.

Inspect your car

If your car has been parked in a garage or has been sitting outside for weeks, be sure to check it out once you're ready to drive.

Before even starting your engine, inspect the inside and the outside, underneath the hood and the trunk. It isn't unlikely for insects or even animals to make a home for themselves in spots you may not suspect (like under your hood), even if your car has only been sitting idle for a week or less. As many of us haven't routinely driven our cars for months, this is plenty of time for critters to build nests.

Inspect your grille, engine and under the wheel well around the tires for creatures, leaves, straws and other debris. These can be fire hazards if caught in a hot engine, or cause other damage to your vehicle.

Continue your walk through and make sure your tires are inflated and haven't gone flat, that your windshield wipers and lights are working, and that your fluids are topped off. On your first drive, refrain from listening to music or podcasts, and instead, keep an ear out for any rattling or knocking sounds that may not have been there before.

"Vehicles are meant to be driven routinely and periods of inactivity can lead to things like flat tires, debris accumulation and other hazards," said Santiago Arroba, an attorney at Whitley Law Firm in Raleigh. "Make sure that everything seems to check out before and during your first drive after quarantine, and if you're really worried, schedule an appointment with your local mechanic. Road safety starts with a vehicle that is properly maintained."

Assess your route

North Carolina, like many other states, is planning on reopening in phases, so it's important to assess your route.

Many counties and local governments have been taking advantage of less road traffic and using the recent months to work on road widenings, street repairs and other infrastructure improvements. As a result, there may still be lane or road closures to accommodate for this construction.

Additionally, traffic patterns may not be the same as they were before the lockdown. Before you go about your usual daily route, research traffic news, plan to leave earlier than usual, and set your GPS before driving in case you need to take an alternate route.

Keep your cool

Being cooped inside for weeks on end has no doubt impacted our daily lives, routines, social interactions and more. The pandemic has had an effect not only on the physical health of many, but also on people's mental health.

You may be feeling understandably on edge, even as things start to reopen. During times of uncertainty it is important to practice healthy coping mechanisms, especially behind the wheel when tensions can increase.

If there is traffic, an inconsiderate driver, or other unexpected driving circumstances, be patient with others and yourself. Make sure to abide by the rules of the road, and if something happens, such as another driver accidentally cutting you off, take a deep breath instead of succumbing to road rage. Focus on paying attention to the road and report reckless driving to local authorities if necessary.

Focus on the road

Speaking of focusing on the road, with everything that is going on in the world, it is easy for us to have our minds on other things when driving. However, when we are behind the wheel, our focus should be on the road ahead.

Keep in mind the following types of driving distractions:

  • Manual - not keeping your hands on the wheel
  • Cognitive - letting your mind wander while driving
  • Visual - not keeping your eyes on the road

During quarantine, many of us have become accustomed to being on our phones constantly during the day. However, it is important to not become distracted by our notifications, music and other stimuli while driving. Silence your notifications so you aren't tempted to check your phone while you are driving, even if you come to a red light or stop sign.

Do not eat, put on makeup, change the song or radio station, or turn around to tend to your children. If any of these things start to interfere with your ability to concentrate on the road, find a safe spot to pull over and resolve the issue as best as possible before driving again.

"Many things have changed since the COVID-19 outbreak, but the dangers of car accidents are still very real," Arroba said. "After a period of not driving, it's important to keep in mind that an accident can happen anywhere, at any time, even if there are less people on the road in the coming months. Stay alert."

This article was written for our sponsor, Whitley Law Firm.

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