As Covid-19 continues to spread, and governments respond with lockdowns, millions of people worldwide will still need to use their cars. For collecting essential supplies or carrying key staff to and from work, the car is often the only viable option. So it’s important to think about how we can keep safe when using our cars and minimise the risk from Covid-19.
Now, we’re not epidemiologists, doctors, or public health officials, so the opinions in this post are not medical or health advice. You should always follow current government and NHS guidelines regarding coronavirus.
We can, however, express our views on the subject based on what the experts are saying.
Your biggest risk in the car: other people.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control:
The virus seems to be transmitted mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale.
Covid-19 enters the body via the eyes, nose and/or mouth. Once there, the virus spreads to the back of the nasal passage and to mucous membranes in the throat. From there, it moves down the bronchial tubes into the air sacs of the lungs.
The fact that the virus spreads on minute droplets explains why social distancing is so important and thought to be effective at reducing risk.
At the start of the pandemic, many people assumed that they would be safe if they just avoided obviously poorly-looking people who were coughing. We now know that’s not good enough. As noted above, virus-laden droplets are expelled just when exhaling. There’s also good evidence that around a third of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic — in other words, there’s no outward sign that the person has the virus.
What does this mean for car travel? Well, unless you’ve got a stretch limo or you plan to put your passengers in the boot, you can’t practice social distancing in your car. What’s worse, you’re confined with them in a pretty small space. So the best way to lower your risk of infection is to avoid sharing your vehicle with people who aren’t in your household. Of course, that’s not always going to be possible — for example, what about key workers who have to share a car to get to their job? But for everyone else, it’s an important precaution to take.
If you really can’t avoid travelling with non-household members, avoid all hand-to-face contact. More on that in a minute.
Keeping the inside clean
Car interiors aren’t the most hygienic places. A third of American drivers only clean the car’s interior once a year and there’s no reason to suspect we do any better in the UK.
Under normal circumstances, it’s probably rare that you contract anything worse than a stomach bug from your car’s unloved interior. But what about the coronavirus?
There are various estimates of how long the virus can persist on surfaces. A recent medical study showed that the virus was stable on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours. Importantly, the ability of the virus to infect probably falls rapidly during that period.
If you have other people in the car, it’s therefore best to err on the side of caution and regularly clean the interior surfaces. These include hotspots such as:
- interior door handles
- seat belts and seat belt releases
- the steering wheel and control stalks
- the fascia and controls
Alcohol-based cleaners are effective against coronavirus, as are soap and other detergents. Whatever product you use, just be careful that it’s not going to damage the surfaces.
Obviously, you should wash your own hands before you start cleaning.
Avoid hand-to-face contact during (or after) car journeys
To cause an infection, the coronavirus has to get access to the mucous membranes in the throat. As we pointed out above, this can happen through virus-carrying droplets directly entering the eyes, nose or mouth.
A second route of infection is by hand-to-face contact. Although the virus can’t get through skin, humans have the unfortunate habit of continually touching our own faces. When we’re in the car, we scratch, rub our eyes, cough into our hands — plus many other habits too unsavoury to mention. There’s also eating, drinking, using a mobile and so on.
All these habits are a vital link in the infection chain. Even if the virus is lurking on your hands, it has almost no opportunity to infect you without a helping hand-to-face contact.
So, if anyone else uses the car, you should avoid eating, drinking or any other hand to face contact. Once you’re out of the car, sanitise or wash your hands before resuming any of those activities.
Common sense precautions
These are strange times and we’re all struggling to adapt, sometimes changing habits of a lifetime in a few days.
It seems to us that some common-sense precautions can massively reduce your chances of being infected, or infecting others, with Covid-19. Again, we’re not medical experts, but the best way forward would seem to be:
- Avoid sharing the car with people not in your household
- Keep the car interior clean and disinfected
- Don’t eat drink or touch your face in the car
- Wash your hands before or after leaving the car.
Best wishes to our readers and customers during this difficult period. Keep safe!
The WVS blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted. We are an independent garage specialising in all the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. WVS provides services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.