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Drinking when driving – why is keeping hydrated in the scorching British summer a must?

It’s hard to escape the heat given the glorious constant summer sun we are currently enjoying in the UK – particularly when driving. Of course, modern car drivers have the benefit of air conditioning systems which they perhaps take for granted, but there is no such option on a motorcycle.

With this very warm weather showing no sign of waning, it got me thinking about the things I have seen over the past 42 years.

Mostly, it has had me wondering whether we as road users have learned any lessons over and above the physical driving and riding skills needed to control a vehicle, and whether enough focus is placed on being able to adapt to differing conditions.

Someone told me the other day that the summer we are currently experiencing is very similar to that of 1976, one I remember well because I was a youngster in my first year in the police.

That year was the first time police officers had ever been allowed to not wear a tie, although the Metropolitan Police were the exception as they had been wearing summer shirts for some years.

Whilst it was a novelty and a concession, I still remember how hot things got and in the same vein, I also remember how uncomfortable it got riding and driving.

On a motorcycle, the temptation was to ride in the bare minimum of T-shirts and shorts (that temptation still remains today for many) but my father, himself a police motorcyclist, insisted that I wore proper kit whenever I was on my bike.

Reluctantly (but looking back, thankfully) I followed his instruction, but I did tend to ride with the front of my leather jacket undone, which was fine to a degree but I perish the thought of the lack protection I would have had if I had come off and gone for a slide down the road.

It brings me back to today’s sweltering heat, and what we should be doing to adapt to this usual, unrelenting hot weather.

Hydration is one of the biggest, if not the biggest issues.

In this warm weather, unless you are like me who sweats and feels hot at any temperature north of 10 degrees, it is easy to forget how much body fluid you will lose and how quickly.

If you start to dehydrate, you will start to lose concentration, your judgement can become impaired, and you can begin to feel faint and dizzy – not a good combination when you are in charge of a few tons of fast moving metal.

It is even more difficult for motorcyclists as your dehydration levels increase even quicker, especially if you are wearing full leathers – a particular situation I can certainly relate to.

My riding colleague suffered life-threatening injuries because he failed to adapt to the heat

Many years ago, I was leading a group of riders over to Assen and the Dutch TT as I had done for many years before.

There were about 20 of us, all very experienced riders and when we started our journey at a little after 6am on the Thursday morning (The TT used to be on a Saturday back then) and it was quite chilly, despite being the last weekend in June.

One of the group was wearing full leathers but was wearing a thick shirt and long johns under his leathers.

As the day progressed, the temperature rose steadily to close on 30 degrees and we made regular stops as we rode through France, Belgium and into Holland so that we could take on fluid and break.

At the last stop before we arrived in Amsterdam, our overnight location, we moved off onto the slip road and accelerated.   We had only been riding for a short while when it was apparent that we were a couple of riders short, and it transpired that one of the group had ridden straight into the back of a vehicle.

It was not a question of excess speed or anything like that, it was a case that the rider had failed to take into account the increase in temperature and had not removed his long johns or thick shirt at one of the hydration stops.

He had basically started to cook and dehydrate as we rode, impacting on his concentration, skill and judgement.

He hit the back of the car so hard that his bike (a CBR600 Honda) was destroyed.

More worryingly, he sustained multiple life threatening injuries which I am pleased to say he made a full recovery from. However, he never rode a motorcycle again.

Speaking to him several months later, he told me that he had been ‘cooking’ on the ride, but thought he had taken on enough fluid and would be ok until we got to our hotel.  He did not want to hold us all up – a hard lesson to learn.

It was an example of how quickly the heat can catch up with you and overtake you, and the serious potential consequences of not riding to the conditions.

Enjoy the weather, but appreciate its dangers and take on fluids

I have already mentioned that dehydration can and will cause a loss of concentration and affect your judgement, so this means you have to work harder to maintain a level of safety.

You will also become tired a lot more quickly, which also affects concentration and judgement, so it becomes a vicious circle and puts not only yourself, but others at risk as well.

If you are in a car, a simple step is to always ensure you have a bottle of fresh water or a non-fizzy drink with you, and to take a drink regularly and often.

If you are on the bike, then depending on the length of your journey, make sure you stop regularly, take on fluid and avoid wearing clothing under your protective kit that is going to act like an oven.

Enjoy the weather, but also be appreciative of its dangers, and how it can impact on your own ability to drive safely.

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