Car health

news: Car health

Dear Reader,

ISN’T IT funny how you really miss what you don’t have? Yesterday, Rebecca (my receptionist from Texas) and I were standing in the rain and enjoyed the drops like small children.

But then, in this naïve and almost romantic scene outside our surgery office, I see Rebecca freeze because there is this delivery van and the engine is running while the driver is chatting away to somebody on the road, and Rebecca knows it’s going to be embarrassing…again.

Yes, my staff have seen me approach drivers on many occasions who leave their engines running, while quickly buying some bread, or unloading the car or just exchanging news with a neighbour. A classic is the delivery man from the supermarket next to the clinic, who used to park his van with the exhaust facing our waiting room and unload the car for many minutes with the motor running: fumigating the whole clinic. I have since re-educated the driver and, since I drove off in his van, he does not come any more.

Sorry, but I really don’t get it. Petrol prices are extremely high and still people do not save energy. The other issue is that car exhaust is toxic and the less there is, the healthier for all of us. I don’t want to join in the speculations about the length of time we will still have oil, but it is highly likely that our children will experience severe shortages.

So, car health rule number one: If you stop your car for longer than 10 seconds you will save energy and help the environment and asthmatics by switching off your engine. Modern cars do not need long periods for warming up.

That is an old myth (and of course I am not against leaving the engine on when your children are sitting in a hot car and you need to keep the air-conditioning on).

When I was 15, I asked my parents if I could have a small motorbike.

One of my father’s friends was a trauma surgeon and my father persuaded him to take me around a ward where all these people were treated, who often had sustained their severe injuries in road traffic accidents. It was a shocking experience for me. It did not deter me though from wanting a bike (with which I later had an accident in which only vanity saved me – I’ll tell you that story another day).

Car health rule number two: The most common cause of death in young people is road traffic accidents. They are even more common in Portugal. The figures are so high that it is almost a scandal but certainly a tragedy. Please teach your children safe driving and passive driving (expecting the mistakes of the others). Explain to them when accidents most often happen – at night – after the disco – under the influence of alcohol and drugs or when it seems cool to drive fast.

Car health rule number three: Dogs and other animals belong behind a sturdy dog guard or under the passenger seat. I often observe dogs freely moving around, on the window, on top of the back storage board or even on the drivers lap. That is seriously unsafe driving. If you need to brake fast, the dog, unrestrained somewhere in the back, will come flying forwards like a bullet and can easily break your neck. That is particularly true for these small toy dogs. Even dogs behind dog guards sometimes cause the greatest injuries to the front passengers because the forces are too strong and the guards break.

Dogs on laps or at the window are a serious source of distraction for the driver.

Car health rule number four: Children until the height of 1,50m need to be on booster seats, otherwise the normal seatbelts can cause strangling accidents.

I was thrilled to see the Portuguese Police informing the public about these new rules recently. They even measured the children in a very friendly manner.

I would go as far as calling it child abuse to carry a small child without a seat belt on the lap on a front seat. And I feel I am allowed to be so critical, because I have seen what happens to these children after they have been catapulted through the windscreen in accidents.

My running partner Teresa, a teacher, has recently told me that they now only use bus companies that use buses with seatbelts for school trips – and rightly so. The law may be different, but in reality a bus is the same as a car.

Car health rule number five; Insist that your child’s school only uses buses with seatbelts for every single seat.

I know, you probably think: Why did he not open a driving school?!

But let me just say a few more words.

Most accidents happen because people are driving too fast, don’t maintain a safe distance to other cars and underestimate the effect of alcohol.

Should you, despite following all my good advice, ever get involved in an accident, please remember the following:

Car health rule number six: In an accident, the priority is safety first. Wear the new yellow jackets. Secure the accident site first. The emergency triangle needs to be placed at the front and rear of the accident scene, at least 50m from the vehicles. If the triangle is too close, other drivers have no chance of stopping quickly enough. And a first-aider who gets injured while helping, is no good to anybody.

In a major accident, the golden paramedic rule is: “First take your own pulse”, meaning stay calm and manage the situation in a rational and controlled way. One person needs to be in charge and priorities need to be established first.

Dear Reader, I hope I was not too dogmatic for you this time. This is only because I strongly feel that cars and roads are not child’s play.

Hope to see you at Lenny’s concert in the stadium on the 12th. Until then, “carpe diem”!


Dr Thomas Kaiser