Coronavirus is killing thousands of people around the world. Good personal hygiene is critical to avoid catching the virus, but what can you do to keep your car virus-free – and how is it affecting drivers in other ways? Haynes offers some timely advice.
The World Health Organisation is warning us that travelling on public transport while Coronavirus - or COVID-19 - exists is fraught with danger. Coronavirus affects the lungs and airways, and the symptoms are a cough, a fever and shortness of breath. Around four fifths of infected people experience a mild illness and make a full recovery, but others in higher age groups and those with underlying health issues such as diabetes and asthma can develop complications, with an overall death rate of around 3-4% being reported.
You can avoid public transport by using your own car, but there are risks here, too. Everything you touch before you get into your car can be spread to the steering wheel, gearlever, key, column stalks, seatbelt and much more - so you need to deal with things as soon as you get in.
Keeping your car free of Covid-19
If you have it, or can get hold of some, keep a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel in the car or in your pocket. Ideally, this will contain ethanol, which is effective at killing coronaviruses such as the flu. Use this as soon as you take your seat in the car and before you touch anything - preferably before you've even closed the door. Rub the gel onto the palms, backs of your hands and between the fingers - it'll evaporate quickly and you'll be able to get on with driving within half a minute or so.
Can't get hold of gel? Anti-bacterial wipes are your next best option. Many wipes - such as Sani Hands Hand Wipes - have been proven to be effective against the flu virus, which is in the same family as Coronavirus. Again, make sure you cover all parts of your hands and fingers, and bin the wipe once used. Don't be tempted to reuse it or share it with anyone else.
How long can Coronavirus survive on car surfaces?
Early research by The Journal of Hospital Infection indicates that Coronavirus can survive on plastic, glass and metal for around nine days, which is around four times longer than the 'standard' flu virus. So it's absolutely vital that you spend time cleaning the car as well as your hands. However, the gels and wipes you use on your hands can damage plastics and leather, so Haynes recommends using standard car interior cleaning products for this job.
Spray or pour the product onto kitchen towel or a clean cloth and make sure all of the steering wheel, indicator and wiper stalks, gearstick, handbrake lever, stereo buttons, ventilation dials, electric window buttons - and anything else you're likely to touch - are wiped.
Bear in mind that you don't want any liquid to seep into any buttons, so take care. Last, but by no means least, your car's touchscreen. Refer to your handbook for the best cleaning product to use on it. Once the cleaning is done, bin the kitchen towel and put the cloth in the washing machine. Then thoroughly wash your hands.
Will my car passengers pass Coronavirus on to me?
If they're infected (and they may not show symptoms for a full week), then yes, it's quite likely. After all, they'll be sitting within a few feet of you and breathing in the same air. Taxi drivers and their passengers, along with driving instructors and their learner driver pupils, are at a higher risk of being infected.
You can reduce the risk by lowering the driver's and rear nearside passenger's windows a little, and open the sunroof if fitted, which will create a flow of fresh air through the car. Masks may also minimise the number of water droplets in the air, but their use hasn't been proven to be hugely effective. Also keep a box of tissues in the car for passengers to cover their nose and mouth if they cough or sneeze, to minimise the spread of disease.
If you're travelling as a family and normally live together in the same house, then driving around in the same car together is unlikely to put you at higher risk of becoming infected. However, make sure that the rear door handles, window switches/handles, seatbelts and buckles, child seats and window glass are cleaned as often as possible, and make sure everyone uses hand wipes and gels before they get into the car. Otherwise you'll have to clean everything again.
You can also catch Coronavirus from someone else's car. So our advice here is to use the hand gel once you've got in and put your seatbelt on. Then avoid touching any other part of the car until you get to your destination. If you do find yourself opening a window or fiddling with the heater controls or stereo, don't touch your face afterwards. This is an easy way to infect yourself.
What about petrol stations?
You may think that Coronavirus wouldn't fare well at a fumey, inhospitable place such as a petrol station, but with everyone handling the pumps every few minutes, there's every likelihood of contamination. So put on a pair of the disposable gloves that are usually next to the pumps or buy a box of single-use gloves. Try to use a 'pay at pump' facility, if available. If you can't pay at the pump, avoid having to use the chip and PIN machine in the shop by making a contactless payment with your card (up to £30) or phone (no limit).
Either way, use your hand gel once you're back in the car. Also bear in mind that you may have spread the virus to your purse or wallet when you made payment, so pay special attention to that once you're home.
Although garages are allowed to remain open, many are closing in order to protect staff and customers from Coronavirus. Normally, a car without a valid MoT certificate risks being pulled over by the police, and you could be fined. Fortunately, the Department of Transport has granted car owners an exemption of six months. This applies to cars, motorbikes and vans, but only kicks in from 30 March, so you'll need to somehow get your vehicle tested if your car's certificate runs out before then.
The government is emphasising that drivers should still make sure their cars are road-worthy, though, and you could still be fined by the police if your tyres' tread is below the legal minimum or any of the front or rear bulbs have blown, for example.
How long will Covid-19 be around for?
Until a vaccine is developed - and that's likely to be at least a year away - Covid 19 will always be around, like flu viruses. And even when a vaccine is distributed, Coronavirus is unlikely to disappear altogether. However, as people become infected and build up immunity, the rates of infection will fall. And as more vulnerable age groups and others are inoculated, the death rate will fall. But until then, the risk for all of us remains high.