Summer driving tips: How to drive safely as temperatures rise

SOUTHEND, ENGLAND - MARCH 29: People sit on benches to enjoy the warm weather as a Jaguar XKR-S sports car passes by on the promenade beside the beach in the warm weather on March 29, 2021 in Southend, England. Today the government eased its rules restricting outdoor socialising and sport in England, the first milestone on the government's
Plan your journey before making trips during hot weather to avoid any problems. (Getty)

From traffic congestion to travelling with children, driving during the summer months comes with its own set of challenges - especially when faced with the prospect of a heatwave.

Follow our four-point plan for avoiding roadside breakdowns and staying safe on the roads as temperatures rise.

1) Carry out basic car checks before setting off

A well-maintained car is much less likely to break down than one that hasn’t been looked after.

While some breakdowns can’t be avoided, many can if basic car maintenance tips are followed - especially before a journey.

When your car is parked on level ground, the ignition is switched off and the engine is cold, check your coolant, oil and screen wash levels, and top up if necessary.

Coolant and oil are essential for cooling down your engine and keeping it running, while screen wash will cut through grime and help boost visibility.

Finally, check all four tyres for damage and tread depth, and make sure they’re inflated to the correct pressure. Legally, the tread depth must be at least 1.6mm but, but for peace of mind, 3mm is recommended.

Regular checks can flag up problems and lower the risk of punctures and dangerous tyre blowouts on motorways.

Top tip: Fuel prices are higher than ever, so fill up with petrol or diesel at the start of journey at a competitively priced service station.

Using a dipstick to check a car's oil level
Using a dipstick to check a car's oil level

2) Stay cool in your car during the summer

Hot weather is great news for holidaymakers, but less so for drivers, passengers and pets.

The most effective way to cool down your car is to use the air-conditioning system, but it comes at a price because it can result in greater fuel consumption in petrol and diesel vehicles, and reduce the battery range in an electric car.

Opening windows at lower speeds can be just as effective, but if you're driving on faster roads it makes more sense to use the air con as the additional drag caused by open windows uses extra fuel.

When you're parked up, try to find a shady spot and use a windscreen sunshade to keep the car cooler. If you're travelling with a baby, invest in sunshades for the rear windows to block the sun and those harmful UV rays.

Make sure you and your passengers stay hydrated, and remember to give your dog some water when you stop off during the journey.

Do not leave children or animals in your vehicle. A car can become dangerously hot in just minutes with potentially fatal consequences.

Last, but not least, avoid road rage. Show courtesy, restraint and manners and let a situation pass you by, even if you are not at fault. If a driver is being confrontational or aggressive, don’t make eye contact and don’t react visibly.

Top tip: The most efficient way to use your air con is to press the air recirculation button (it has a picture of a car with a U-shaped arrow inside it). which allows the system to re-use the cool air from inside the car and stops the warmer outside air from getting in.

Close-up shot of a car's air-conditioning control knob and air recirculation button
Close-up shot of a car's air-conditioning control knob and air recirculation button

3) Tips for maintaining focus while driving in the heat

Driving is a demanding task that can suddenly require all your attention if a hazard arises. If you're not focused you will be slower to react - a delay that could prove fatal.

  • Make sure you get a good sleep, especially the night before a long journey. Driver fatigue is a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.

  • If you're feeling drowsy, stop in a safe place (not a motorway hard shoulder) and take a break.

  • Share the driving if possible and take frequent breaks (the Highway Code advises taking a 15-minute break every two hours as a minimum). Get out of the car for fresh air, have a stretch and a walk, drink and eat food.

  • Keep your smartphone out of sight and put it in silent mode. That way you're not tempted to look at it if you receive a call or text.

  • Avoid the distraction of eating and drinking while driving. If you are hungry or thirsty, find a safe place to pull over.

  • Tell your passengers to stop talking and/or behave themselves if you feel that they are distracting you.

  • Make a playlist before setting off with all your favourite songs. Taking your eyes off the road to skip tracks could be all it takes to cause an accident.

  • If you're travelling with kids, make sure they are kept occupied and they have a ready supply of snacks and drinks.

A queue of cars waiting to pass two people on horseback
A queue of cars waiting to pass two people on horseback

4) Expect the unexpected on the roads this summer

Whether it's navigating unfamiliar roads, dealing with sudden downpours or getting stuck behind tractors and caravans, driving in the summer has its own set of demands.

As well as slow-moving agricultural vehicles on country roads, you may come across cyclists, horse-riders and walkers, or even animals such as deer, darting across the road.

There may be loose chippings, or a summer storm which can lead to large areas of standing water, which can turn dry mud on country lanes into a skid pan.

The golden rules are: expect the unexpected, stick to the speed limits, keep your distance and stay patient.