There’s nothing quite like getting caught in traffic to dampen the holiday spirit.
And the estimated quarter million holidaymakers who were delayed trying to cross the channel into France a couple of weeks ago perhaps know this better than anyone else. Water bottles had to be handed out to motorists by the authorities, as temperatures rose to almost 30 degrees.
But aside from the obvious disappointment and annoyance caused by gridlock, becoming trapped in a miles-long jam can have a detrimental effect on health too.
Many readers will be aware that constant exposure to traffic fumes has been extensively associated with conditions such as cancer, COPD and asthma, to increased mortality by some studies and to inhibited brain and memory function by others.
However, there are several more immediate short term health risks related to simply getting stuck in a traffic jam (particularly when travelling unprepared for warmer weather):
- As evidenced by the need for water distribution on the route to Dover last month, dehydration is one. This can also lead to headaches, migraines, and low blood pressure.
- Heat exhaustion (and later heat stroke) might be an issue for those caught up in the sun, particularly during the hottest peak hours (11am to 3pm).
- For motorists on long journeys without sufficient breaks, tiredness can be a damaging influence on concentration, and increase the likelihood of accidents.
- Traffic fumes can irritate the airways and exacerbate asthma symptoms in those susceptible to them.
- Remaining seated in confined spaces for long periods without moving around can increase the risk of a blood clot.
Worrisome as the above may sound, motorists can avoid them by taking certain precautions prior to and during travel.
Here’s our guide to staying well in a jam:
Stock up on water before you go
It may seem like stating the obvious, but the best way to avoid dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids.
For long car journeys, where you’re going to need to consume lots of fluids to keep your body functioning and cool it down in warmer weather, water (and not caffeinated, sugary or fizzy soft drinks) is the most reliable choice.
One mistake many of those going on long trips make is not taking water with them, either because they assume they’ll be able to complete their trip without running into delays, or that there’ll be an opportunity to stop and pick some water up on the way. But this isn’t always the case.
By taking your own supply, you’re eliminating the risk of running short.
For holidaymakers, a cool bag with ice blocks is a vital investment. It keeps water cold, and drinking cold water helps to prevent body temperature from rising too high, protecting against heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Get a good night’s sleep on holiday eve
Last minute holiday preparations often mean that getting a decent amount of sleep the night before departure isn’t always feasible.
But the more sleep you get before a long drive, the less tired you’re going to be, the less likely it is you’ll get a headache (or a migraine if you’re susceptible to them) and the less reliant you’ll be on dehydrating drinks containing caffeine to stay alert.
Those getting caught in a traffic jam who aren’t well-rested (particularly those travelling solo) will be more tempted to doze off while they wait for traffic to disperse; which obviously isn’t safe for the driver or those around them.
In the event that you haven’t had a great night’s sleep and are travelling with someone else who is able to drive, then swapping over in shifts is certainly recommended.
Don’t forget your medicines
In addition to any treatments you may take for existing conditions (such as tablets or inhalers), it’s also important to take mild pain relief with you, such as paracetamol, in case you encounter a headache or migraine in the heat.
For some, antihistamines may be required if caught in a traffic jam next to a field containing allergy-inducing elements such as cut grass or hay.
Those with severe allergies (anaphylaxis) should also make sure they have their EpiPen within easy reach should the unexpected happen.
Pull over into a services when safe to
Circulation can become restricted by lack of movement, particularly when travelling in confined spaces.
Blood clots are typically associated with flying for this reason. Many presume that it’s the change in altitude which causes DVT, but in fact it is more to do with immobility, which isn’t just an issue for those flying; it’s a risk for those travelling by any means where they aren’t free to stand up and walk around.
Whether your route is congested or not, it’s advisable to stop at the roadside services where possible. Try to go for no longer than three hours at a time without visiting a stop, and getting out of the car to stretch your legs. This will enable your circulation to stay mobile, and help to lower the risk of DVT developing.
Make use of your aircon
Ventilation and keeping cool on hot days is obviously important.
Opening car windows is often helpful in more open situations where traffic is moving, but not always when stuck in gridlock in busy urban areas, and the outside air is thick with fumes.
Those aren’t able to stop at a services to get some air and are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic should switch their in-vehicle air conditioning on. It’ll help to reduce the temperature inside the car, and the filter will exclude some (but not all) of the harmful particles produced by emissions from other cars.
Soothe the Atmosphere
Stress is undoubtedly a fixture in many a traffic jam. Taking measures to alleviate stress will help the journey to pass more pleasantly, and lower the effects of tension on the body (which might include headaches, stomach discomfort and muscle stiffness).
If you're travelling on your own, you might consider taking a CD or MP3 of a radio comedy, or some relaxing music. If you're travelling with family or friends, it's worth thinking about packing travel games or activities passengers can participate in (provided they don't distract the driver's attention).
Try not to rely on online games or music files in the cloud that you need a 4G network connection for, as you can't always count on there being an adequate signal on more rural stretches of road.