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Does heat make roads less safe?

On Behalf of | Aug 11, 2023 | Personal Injury

The scorching heat of summer profoundly impacts various aspects of daily life, including transportation infrastructure. As the mercury rises, it’s not just our bodies that feel the strain; roads and vehicles are also under increasing stress.

These are some of the potential hazards heat poses on roads and the broader implications for transportation system safety overall.

The stress on wheels

One of the most immediate effects of extreme heat on vehicles is the increased risk of tire blowouts. As temperatures rise, the rubber components of tires expand. This can cause the pressure in tires to decrease. Underinflated tires, exacerbated by heat-related expansion, are more prone to blowouts. Therefore, during hot months, proper tire maintenance and adequate inflation may become particularly imperative.

Engine overheating and performance

High temperatures can also take a toll on vehicle engines. Engine components can overheat, causing decreased performance, reduced fuel efficiency and even engine damage. Regular maintenance, checking coolant levels and proper engine functioning are essential to help prevent overheating during hot weather.

Rising temperatures and road surfaces

Summer’s relentless heat takes a toll on road surfaces, which are subject to continuous expansion and contraction due to temperature fluctuations. This phenomenon, known as thermal expansion, can lead to cracks and fissures in the asphalt. When water seeps into these cracks and freezes during cooler nights, it exacerbates the damage, causing potholes to form.

Furthermore, the materials used in road construction, such as asphalt and concrete, are susceptible to temperature-induced damage. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to a phenomenon known as “rutting,” where the road surface softens and deforms under the weight of vehicles. This creates uneven surfaces, reducing road grip and making driving conditions dangerous, particularly during rain or nighttime.

Stress on bridges and overpasses

Bridges and overpasses face unique challenges in high temperatures. The metal components of these structures expand under heat, which can lead to structural stresses and even structural failures if they’re not appropriately managed. Proper engineering and maintenance are crucial in helping to ensure that these critical pieces of infrastructure can withstand temperature-induced strains.

During summer, roads are subjected to thermal stresses that lead to cracks and deformities, while vehicles face tire blowouts and engine overheating. By understanding this reality, drivers can be inspired to drive more defensively and to drive at cooler times of day to stay safer when conditions get hotter and more dangerous.