2 Things You Need to Do as Soon as You Get in the Car to Avoid COVID

Your car carries high risk for coronavirus transmission. Here's how you can stop it.

Compared to public trains and buses, a car may seem like the safest mode of transportation amid the coronavirus crisis—and if you're traveling solo, indeed it is. But as Erin Bromage, PhD, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth told Good Morning America this week, getting into a car is one of the riskiest things you can do during the pandemic if you travel with anyone else.

As he explained, entering a confined and poorly ventilated space with a driver or other passengers is "one of the highest risk interactions" you can have—and one that demands a simple yet stringent safety protocol. Every time you get into a car—whether that's with a family member or an Uber driver—be sure to follow these two easy steps for a safer ride. And for more tips on COVID-era car sharing, This Is the Worst Thing You Can Do in Someone Else's Car, the CDC Says.

Turn off the air recycler.

Cropped image of recirculation button in car

Air conditioners can either help or hinder your coronavirus safety: it all comes down to whether yours brings in fresh air from outside or recycles air internally. That's why it's key to make sure you turn off the recirculation button the moment you step into your car. This will ensure that new air is pumping in from the great outdoors, instead of recirculating old, potentially contaminated air.

The CDC recommends this step as part of its broader guidelines for travel safety (this list includes wearing a mask, avoiding surface touch, and practicing hand hygiene after the ride). And for more on avoiding COVID while traveling, check out the 7 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Get in Your Car.

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Lower the windows.

Dog enjoying open car window

Perhaps even more importantly, you should always make sure to lower your car windows for optimal ventilation. This is the quickest and most efficient way to ensure a steady stream of fresh air, which can help to dilute any viral particles that might be present in your vehicle.

Though it's virtually impossible to maintain proper social distancing in most cars, this is one factor you can control while riding with others. "When the windows are closed, SARS-CoV-2 (in fine aerosol particles that cause COVID-19) accumulates in the car cabin. With each new cough, the concentration builds up with no significant dilution happening. But even cracking one window open just 3 inches can keep this at bay," three experts recently wrote for USA Today.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more