How to practise good physical distancing while driving this summer

How to practise good physical distancing while driving this summer

The new normal feels pretty abnormal. Streets are empty, parks are off-limits, and supermarkets have become stress centres. After two months, cabin fever is setting in, and your car beckons from the garage. But not so fast.

Quite literally, not so fast. There's been a spate of speeding on our roads, with some jaw-dropping tickets handed out. Those empty roads are proving too tempting for some, and it's giving all recreational driving a bad name. It needn't be like this.

On paper, a car is pretty much the ideal escape vehicle. It lets you travel around but still maintain a proper distance from everyone. It can be a cocoon of comfort away from a stifling apartment or a meditative chamber while you cruise slowly along a sunny day. It can even be a way to reconnect with your friends. You just have to be smart about it.

Here's how, as some restrictions relax across the country, we can reclaim driving as a safe activity. Things might not be normal for a while yet, but you can still get your wheels turning.

Never before has a supercar looked less appealing. Yes, city streets have a lot less traffic than usual, but that doesn’t mean drivers should be any less responsible. As sunny summer afternoons beckon, what you really crave is some huge American land yacht of a convertible, as long as an aircraft carrier and about as leisurely.

But what you drive isn't as important as how you drive it. Rolling around your neighbourhood, either solo or in a convoy, is best done at a respectful pace. When you're no longer trying to beat traffic on the daily commute, you might feel your heartbeat even out.

Aimless drives are the ideal time to practise being a more responsible road user. Take your time. Watch for bikes and pedestrians. Let people cut in front. You probably do all this anyway, but why not get even more Canadian about it?

That early-summer road trip is probably off the table. Health officials are cautious about people travelling between communities, so it’s unfortunately not the time to go for a long drive out to your favourite lunch spot. Unless, of course, they have a takeout option.

Better to keep it close, although that doesn’t mean you can’t go exploring from the comfort of your driver’s seat. Odds are there’s plenty of familiar old roads to drive in your neighbourhood, and you can always cruise past a friend’s house and wave hello from curbside.

Even if you are keeping it slow and close, there’s never been a more important time to be self-reliant. Anything that you’d consider carrying with you on a longer-distance road trip should probably be in the car with you now. That means jumper cables, essential fluids and a tool kit with no missing parts.

Make sure your tire pressures are correct, and don’t forget to check the spare. Keep all fluid levels topped off and make sure your maintenance requirements are up to date.

And don't forget that going for a periodic drive isn't just good for you, it's good for your car. Long periods of sitting can be bad for tires and batteries, and your car not might be ready to go if you actually need it. Putting a few kilometres on the clock is good maintenance.

When life was normal, modern driving meant wrestling with the tendency to check your phone at stoplights. Distracted driving was a constant problem.

In times like these, it's more important than ever to focus exclusively on driving. Shut your phone off. Lock it in the glovebox. Let whatever is currently stressing you out take a back seat or, better yet, ask it to get out of the car.

Driving can be way to unwind, but it works best when you’re concentrating on the task at hand. Not only will you get a break from worrying about the latest scary headline to pop up on your social-media feeds, but you’ll be safer on the roads. Then, once life slowly begins to return to normal, keep that phone locked in the glovebox. It’s just good practice.

Parking-lot get-togethers and cruises are a highlight of any summer season if you’re a car enthusiast. However, most official events have been postponed or outright cancelled. Getting together and shaking hands while you chat about your current project car is going to have to wait until next year.

But that doesn’t mean you can hold a get-together on wheels. In fact, rolling around with a group of friends in some fun old cars is a great way to recapture a little camaraderie after so many days spent at home and feels better than any virtual meetup.

Again, be smart about it. You’re going to want to keep the group small enough to get through a traffic light together. Make sure to put the slowest car up front, to keep everyone at a reasonable pace. Only invite responsible drivers that you know will stick to the script.

And wave at people. You might have to keep your distance these days, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop being friendly. Everyone else is probably feeling a bit weird about the new normal, too, so don’t forget to brighten a day or two. “We’re all in this together” doesn’t just have to be a slogan.

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