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Staying safe in the summer heat

Believe it or not, summer — not icy winter — has proven to be the most dangerous season to be driving. On Minnesota roads, Memorial Day through Labor Day are the 100 deadliest days.

Last year, summer accounted for 120 of the 392 fatalities reported by Minnesota Department of Transportation, or 31 percent of all traffic deaths.

While teen fatality numbers have gone down since 2005, teenagers and young adults pay the heaviest price in traffic safety accounting for a total of 16.4 percent of accidents in 2015, according to the Department of Public Safety.

When it comes to the top contributing factors, MnDOT reports speed, distraction, drunken driving and lack of seat belts to play a significant role in motor vehicle crashes. To best prepare for the summer days, plan ahead and stay on top of car maintenance.

Arrive alive

Not only is traffic heavier on the roads with school being out and people traveling to summer destinations, often construction can also pose a huge risk for drivers.

Rear-end crashes in work-zones are the most common type of crash during times of road work. A large majority of all accidents during construction end up happening on roads with speed limits over 50 mph.

Mike Dougherty, MnDOT community relations coordinator, offered his best advice for motorists during this time of year: slow down.

"Almost every work zone you enter, there will be a change in the speed limit," Dougherty said. "That gives you a better reaction time should there be anything that happens."

Extra enforcement in Minnesota is scheduled to target speeding motorists from July 7-23 this year. A speeding fine in a construction zone can run up to $300. Troopers, deputies and officers are also on the lookout for those who neglect to buckle their seatbelt.

Dougherty encourages drivers to check the MnDOT road condition site at or by downloading the app on their phone before entering a vehicle. The app allows users to view live maps to see how congested areas are. But, make sure the phone is safely stored away before entering the car.

"There's so many lives at stake there; yours, your passengers, the workers, fellow motorists," Dougherty said. "Two hands on the wheel, looking ahead, the cellphone is put away."

Adding to cellphone usage, the Department of Motor Vehicles advises installing an app that encourages not to use a phone while driving. One app suggestion by the DMV is LifeSaver, which sends parents notifications of where you're headed, blocks text messages and calls, tracks safe miles driven and rewards safe driving.

"A lot of people get excited about the nice weather and heading to the beach and start to get preoccupied," Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman said. "You have to get there first."

Another way to ensure safe driving in the summer is by keeping our vehicles in check.

Vehicle maintenance

By taking good care of our vehicles, it can help lessen the chances of having to deal with any sort of mechanical failure. Below are a few check-list items to do on your own. Some maintenance requires a trip to the auto shop.

• Check the tire pressure. According to Rubber Manufactures Association, 1 out of 10 drivers checks tire pressure correctly. An under- or over-inflated, worn or misaligned tire can increase the odds of a blowout. Don't forget to also pack a spare tire in the trunk.

• Keep the oil clean. Most owner's manuals suggest changing the oil and oil filter every 7,500 miles. However, oil change specialists suggest every 3,000 miles or every three months.

• Check hoses and belts. In the summer, vehicles have to work extra hard to stay cool. By peeking under the hood, check to see if any hoses have cracks, leaks or loose connections. Belts can also be checked for cracks or damages. The risk of belt failure increases after 36,000 miles.

• Replace windshield wipers. If it starts to rain, especially at night, visibility can be decreased to only 15 or 20 feet in front of the vehicle.

• Make sure brakes are working properly. If the brake pedal is hard and resistant, rests too low or too high, or causes loud and constant scraping and grinding sounds, it's time to see a mechanic.

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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