Surviving the Summer Commute


If you are like me and live in one of America’s Southern cities then you really come to dread the Summer commute…and rightly so.

Every year the Highway Patrol reports a certain number of accidents and injuries related to heat especially during July and August when temperatures can reach 90-106 degrees Fahrenheit.

So this blog is about how to make that summer commute a little safer. We will consider a couple of different scenarios here including normal driving, breakdown situations, and cars with and without air conditioning.

And some of the tips in this blog may seem embarrassing but if your life is in danger embarrassment is a small and passing price to pay for rescue.

But first let’s cover some of the basics.

As a biased survivalist type, I feel that every driver should take some simple steps toward assuring his or her safety on the road…and yes, ladies, I’m including you here. The more you can do for yourself, the better your odds of survival especially during an emergency. If the man in your life can change a tire, so can you…and in a ten car pileup, not unusual in my area of the I-85 corridor, rescue crews and AAA may not be able to get to you in a timely fashion. They won’t come if you can’t call them either – dead cell phones are a reality I’m afraid, but you can prepare for that, too.

I’ve listed the basic vehicle safety kit before, however (Survival list) so we’ll stick to summer needs today.

Survival schools start with the rule of 3, also mentioned before, but rehashed here.

In an emergency, you will last

  • 3 seconds without hope
  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Now hopefully you will never find yourself dealing with most of these on the highway but it’s best to be prepared.

In the hot Southern summers, that means a real focus on shade, water, and low-salt foods.

It is recommended that every driver carry duct tape, a tarp, and two gallons of water as well as a cellphone to call for aid at the absolute bare minimum.

And save the water for drinking, or carry a third gallon for cooling your vehicle.

Mylar windshield sunshades – at a $1 each at the areas many dollar stores – are also very helpful.

And since most of the dangers of a commute are traffic related, especially accidents or traffic stoppages – I also recommend a urinal of some sort for both the guys and the ladies (Ladies Google “Shewee” or “Go Girl”) as urinating in the bushes is not an option on the densely urbanized strips and stoppages can truly last hours.

And save that pee. I’ll explain in a bit.

A hat and a raincoat are also helpful. The hat will cover your head and you can sit on the raincoat in instances where you have to leave your car or use it as an additional shade. (Or even wear it if it rains.)

I also recommend having basic food items in the car. Unsalted items are better as they allow you to conserve your water but DO carry at least one salted food or an electrolytic drink to replace lost salts as needed.

The biggest trick here is to use your resources wisely and that includes your car.

DO NOT leave your vehicle or the area immediately around it. A car is far easier to spot than a lost human and is usually along a known route. You are more likely to survive if you use your car for as long as possible in every way possible and still stay near it even when you’ve used every last part.

Also while I will mention fire and burning things often this should only be used as a very very last resort.

Situation 1: Traffic Jam

First let’s assume that your car is running and has air conditioning. Run your AC in short bursts, about ten minutes and then turn it off for twenty. Then run it for another ten minutes. This may seem counter- intuitive but it allows your engine fan and compressor short breaks and also helps keep your engine from overheating.

Do not talk on your cell phone – you may need it to call help later. You can use it once to check traffic flow websites to see if you have a chance of moving in the next hour or so but leave it at that…and if you have a GPS use that instead. Several now come with traffic notifications or alternate route information.

Run the radio -especially if your city offers traffic and driver information channels, listen to an audiobook, read an actual book, magazine or newspaper. Catch up on the reports you skipped last night so you could binge watch Orange is the New Black.

Do not eat salty or heavy foods.

Drink water as needed. The best place to store water is in your body. Hoarding it for later does not make sense because you will build up a dehydration debt and end up drinking more. Only ration your water if your situation looks really dire.

If you are sitting there for more than an hour consider turning off your car, cracking your windows, getting out of the car and sitting on the roadside if possible and safe.

You can shade yourself outside the vehicle and if needed return to it at intervals and run the AC a bit to cool yourself further.

But sitting outside the car – if safe – saves gas and offers you a safe place to return to.

If you do not have AC, roll the front windows -and only the front windows – down for ventilation in an unmoving vehicle. Leave the back windows closed and try to make your car as shady as possible safely. Draping a shirt over the sun side windows can really help. Or you can use the mylar sunshades to block sun side windows and rear windshield as well.

The purchase of a solar powered window fan such as those sold by Heartland America and the Sportsman’s Guide or REI is also a great idea but if you don’t have one, open your front two windows to different heights as this creates turbulence and increases air flow even if the only air available is a slight breeze.

Slide your driver’s seat as far back out of the sun as it will go but only recline it after twenty minutes of stopped traffic.

If traffic stops for more than an hour those without AC really have no choice but to exit the car and seek shade elsewhere.

Situation 2: Breakdown

If you are in a truly urban area this is no big deal. Get help. If you are not blocked in by heavy traffic, then make that phone call. If your phone is dead ash a nearby driver or pedestrian to call for you. If there are no people available, walk for aid, but try to remain within three blocks of your car. A dead car attracts attention. A small walking human, not so much.

Believe me someone will call for help for you if you can’t, especially if your car is blocking traffic.

If you are in a rural area or blocked in by heavy traffic but your car’s cooling system still works and is safe to use, follow the steps for a traffic jam.

If you cannot call for help, but can fix the problem yourself and have the appropriate tools, then go to it. Just remember to drink lots of water, rest often in a shaded or cooler area, and don’t rush. “Shortcuts aren’t” as my military Granddad would say and mistakes made in rushing can cost you extra time and resources or even make your situation worse.

Also if you cannot call for help then go ahead and make the assumption that things are worse than they are. This is a good tip based on the adage of “Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

If you have a flat tire on the shady side of the car, repair it. If the flat is on the sun side, take the extra six seconds to protect yourself from the heat. Open an umbrella and angle it for shade. Tape a mylar sunshade to the side or roof of the car and make an awning if possible. Wear the hat and shades. If someone comes along and helps you, awesome. Even if they tease a little. If no one comes along, then you are still cooler and have improved your chances of getting the job done with a clearer head.

If your car has simply overheated allowing it to cool and then adding radiator fluid, that third gallon of water (BUT NEVER YOUR DRINKING WATER) or that beer in the shopping bags or the pee you’ve been saving could be enough to get you far enough down the road to get help. Use what you have while waiting for aid, not when it becomes obvious aid is a long time coming.

If the problem is not something you cannot fix, then make your car visible. Put out markers or road flares – if you have too then turn on the car lights or flashers if you can, open the trunk and hood even doors, and then take shelter somewhere where you can see the car and the road and wait for help.

Make sure to make yourself visible as well. If you have a brightly colored tees shirt, hat, vest, coat, or whatever use it. Flashing lights and so on are also great.

If some jerk blows by, go wave your shirt or blow your car horn anyway. If you have a whistle use it as well. Maybe he’ll stop if he or she realizes you are seriously in trouble. Also lone drivers or couples are more likely to stop make an extra effort with these drivers.

If no one comes for a long time, drink your water slowly, eat your unsalted foods, and rest as much as possible. Stay in the shade as much as possible. Be patient. The only real time to worry is when you run out of something vital to your well being, starting with shelter and moving to water.

But if that happens then you are in a Worst Case Scenario.

If you reach this point STOP worrying about money, expense, or embarrassment.

If you need this advice then things are really really bad.

So here is what you do.


Sounds obvious, right? But it’s amazing how many people ignore this simple piece of advice.

Use everything in your car, first.

  • Tools are a godsend.
  • Food and water are vital. Only ration water after 12 hours and food after 24. Remember to eat salt every six hours if possible -ration your salt. You only need a little but it’s vital. So don’t drink the whole Gatorade or eat the whole bag of nuts.
  • You can pour spare urine onto yourself to cool your body – seriously, it was in you, it won’t hurt if it’s on you and pouring urine into your hair will cool you off without wasting precious drinking water.
  • Maps, manuals, and paper can be used to make signal fires, lighting or for cooking if SHTF big time – they can also be used for TP. And save that TP. Let it dry and you can still burn it if you have to.
  • Spare clothes can be used for shade and bedding. Or can be burned as a very last resort.
  • Kid’s toys can be thrown at passersby or if the toy makes light or noise it can be used as a signal device.
  • Kid car seats can be used as improvised backpacks (pull your shirt or spare shirt over them), to block roads, or to burn
  • Flashlights can be used for signaling.
  • Water bottles or clear urinals can be used to start fires.

Use the contents of your purse, man bag, or pockets as well.

  • If you have a knife or a multitool you are truly blessed
  • Coins can be used to line fire pits or can be used to reflect light.
  • Watch lens and glasses are both fire starters and sun flashers.
  • Belts can be used to lash gear, and large buckles will catch light
  • Cellphone screens can be used to flash light and who knows when you might catch a rogue signal. But turn the phone off unless you have a freaking signal.
  • Napkins, paper towel, alcohol wipes, notepaper, tampons, and menstrual pads all burn. You can also save the tampons and pads for first aid bandages or T.P. Again save them even when dirty, the will still burn when dry.
  • Bandannas and scarves make great signals, water filters, small carry bags, bandages and more.
  • Wallet leather can be used to touch hot surfaces or protect your hands from broken glass, untreated leather can even be eaten in a pinch.
  • Credit cards can be used as makeshift screwdrivers, prying implements, shoveling tools, and if well laminated signaling devices. And they will burn as well…but treat them as tools first.
  • Batteries can be used in tools or loose ones can be converted into lighters.
  • Plastic bags can be used to make condensation pits and to hold urine and water. Clear ones can be used to start fires.
  • Shoelaces can be used to lash cargo or make a lean to.

Your car is a treasure trove even if for some odd reason there is nothing in it.

Use the car as long as you can…running the AC as long as possible if you have it. Use the lights and signals and horn as long as you can as well. Pretend you are about three years old and don’t worry about being embarrassed. If you think someone can see or hear you, make noise and flash lights.

Even once you are out of gas a car still serves many purposes.

  • Side mirrors or rear view mirrors can be used to make sun signals or start fires – break them off. It’s a small repair and your life is worth more. Chromed bumpers are also good for this.
  • Tires can be removed and burned as signals (last resort)
  • Crankcase oil and other lubricants can be used to start fires.
  • The car body makes an awesome drum if you think someone can hear you.
  • Broken window glass can be used as makeshift knives.
  • Car seats are awesome beds.
  • Seat belts can be used as strapping material.
  • Seat stuffing can be used as bedding, insulation, or fire starter.
  • Rubber or carpeted floor mats make good bedding, can be used as shading materials, will make a loud slap against a car dour, can be waved as flags, and will also burn.
  • Car batteries can be used to start fires even after they quit powering the car…at least for a short time.

Rest in the car whenever you can for shelter and safety. Do not over-exert yourself and do not lie to yourself about how fit you are. Nap, sleep, read, relax. Imagine yourself on a beach in a resort hotel.

If you hear an engine or see sun flash or hear a bass beat then get out of the car and do whatever you can to make noise, light, or be more visible. Blow your horn -if you can. Flash your lights if you can. Get in the road. Dance. Take off your shirt and hat and wave it. Show your boobs. Throw things. Scream. Even if it does not have AC it’s a safe place to sleep at night, and with moderately hot temperatures and sunshades and the tarp during the morning and late evening.

A tarp awning taped to the roof and then made into a tent with whatever is on hand, even just your shoes weighting it down at an angle will give you a shady place to hide from sun and rain during the day. Digging a shallow pit in the dirt or lying on the grass under the car can serve if you don’t have a tarp.

NEVER burn your tarp or raincoat and try to hold onto at least one bag.

Try not to talk, even to yourself. You lose most of your moisture through your mouth.

Finally, stay put as long as you can. You should only attempt to hike out if you have exhausted all your other options and are out of water.

If you are hiking out, pack everything you have left that might be useful without over weighing you. Take glasses or the watch or a piece of broken mirror. Don’t take the whole mirror. Take any plastic bags to use for dew collecting. Take your urine bottle and any urine in it. You are going to want to have a bottle if you find water and urine can still cool you off. Take a bandanna if you have one. Take your tarp or raincoat. Take your belt. Footwear is a must – if you are wearing heals break off the heels for makeshift flats. If you have a first aid kit, take it.

And wait for nightfall to begin.

It will be cooler, you are more likely to see headlights -even those on different roads, and if you are lucky the light pollution from a house or city might at least give you an idea of which direction to go.

But more on hiking and hiking out later. It really should be your absolute last resort, period.

So for now I’m Spenser wishing you happy and safe travels.


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