It wasn't too long ago that if you heard someone talking about ‘social distancing’ you’d assume they were taking a break from Facebook.
Now it’s the primary step in the effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Australia, more specifically known as COVID-19, which has swept the globe.
Social distancing is key
Social distancing simply means keeping a safe distance away from other people if you’re not in self-isolation or quarantine and includes measures such as not shaking hands, and staying about 1.5 metres away from other people.
A car is a good way to maintain social distance compared to public transport if you’re by yourself, but it’s a different story if you have to drive other people around or need to ride with someone else.
How to share a ride safely
If you have to be in a car with other people it is advised to do what is recommended for anywhere else. Avoid physical contact with other occupants such as shaking hands, and if you have to sneeze or cough do it into a tissue or into your arm behind the elbow and away from anyone else.
And remember to follow any directions or rules related to driving at this time. For example, depending on social distancing measures in your state you may be restricted to driving around only the people you live with.
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If you're catching a taxi or ride-sharing service, sit in the back seat for better separation from the driver – for their protection as well as yours. Services that use an app for payment are good as it requires no physical interaction between driver and passenger.
Where possible pay by touching your card. If you have to handle an EFTPOS machine or cash, use hand sanitiser when you get out of the car or wash your hands at the first available opportunity. Be sure to avoid touching your face directly after being inside.
And, it goes without saying, don’t drive if you’re feeling sick and avoid ferrying anyone who you believe who may have been exposed to the virus or is showing coronavirus symptoms.
Similar hygiene steps should be used at petrol stations. Wash or sanitise your hands after handling fuel pumps, tyre inflators, and after handling touching cash or EFT terminals and any other public surfaces during the transaction.
Cleaning your car is important
If you’re driving people around or simply using your car after visiting public areas it’s a good idea to regularly sanitise your vehicle’s surfaces to prevent your car from becoming a petri dish.
However, German car care and cleaning authority Sonax has some expert advice to offer on the subject and warns that even the best cleansing is no substitute for physical and social distancing.
"It would be irresponsible to give motorists the idea that this dangerous pathogen can be rendered harmless with vehicle care products," said the head of research and development at the Hoffmann Group and Sonax executive board member Dr Christian Seeger.
"However, just as people need to wash their hands thoroughly, we also believe it is important to clean surfaces in the home and in the car for the sake of general good health.
"Nevertheless, the general rules for infection prevention, such as distance from other people and thorough hand-washing, remain the number one priority."
In conjunction with good social distancing and hygiene practices, the right car cleaning regime can reduce the spread of the virus without harming your car's cabin.
According to the company, car cleaning with harsh chemicals that could be harmful to yourself and the environment or damage your interior, and bleach, hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based agents are simply not necessary.
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Instead, gentler detergents are proven to kill the virus while claimed anti-bacterial products are unnecessary and can be ineffective against viruses.
Sonax's specialist car cleaning tips
- Avoid alcohol-based and other harsh cleaning products. These can cause interior materials to become stained, faded or brittle.
- Water-based detergents and warm water are effective when used correctly.
- Pay particular attention to frequently-touched surfaces including seats, armrests, steering wheel and gear selector.
- ideally, it’s also worth cleaning the entire dashboard, all door handles, the rear-view mirror, boot latch, the lever to release the bonnet, and the petrol cap and its cover.
- Don't use a clean car as a reason to relax physical distancing regulations or hygiene best practices.
- Regardless of the product, give it time to take full effect - for reference, Sonax products require about a minute of application.
- Remove residue with a clean, soft microfibre cloth to avoid damaging surfaces.
- Where fitted, replace your ventilation system filter, especially if it is a microfilter or HEPA type as these are more effective at trapping airborne pathogens.
More tips for sanitising your car
- Don’t forget the infotainment touchscreen, and buttons and switches. Wipes are probably the best option here to avoid any water getting into the electrics. Your car’s owner’s manual will probably suggest any materials to avoid when cleaning the screen.
- Clean those surfaces that would be in the line of fire for anyone coughing or sneezing.
- Child restraints should so be cleaned thoroughly, as should any toys or books you keep in the car to keep them entertained as well as other loose items like USB cables.
- Have a rubbish bag handy for tissues or any disposable items like food wrappers that anyone in the car has handled.
- Wear gloves when cleaning and/or wash your hands thoroughly before and after.
Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) Chief Executive Tony Weber said taking these simple measures may help stem the rising tide of infections without impacting our ability to drive.
“As social distancing measures limit transportation options, Australians are looking to their cars as a more isolated means to conduct essential travel, and in some cases are even receiving vital infection screening from their vehicle.
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“Maintaining hygiene can assist in preventing transmission. It is just as important as cleaning any other surface. Cars should be sanitised every time they are entered or exited."
Of course, while these measures are important, the best way to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19 is to just stay at home and only drive your car when necessary.