Ditch these hitchhikers…

Dashboard

A widely used flame retardant called hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) often comes embedded in foam cushioning, but it doesn’t always stay there. In a 2009 study published in the journal Environment Inter-national, researchers detected this noxious chemical in dust on the front panel, dashboard, and steering wheel – meaning you and your passengers are probably breathing it in.

Stay safe:

Vacuum your car at least once a week. Or purchase an air filter, like the Airdow Auto Mate Purifier (R550 www.h2o.co.za), which plugs into the cigarette lighter. This device helps filter out HBCD-laced dust and other allergens.

Interior air

That nice new-car smell comes from the fresh paint, upholstery, deodorisers and plastic in the car’s interior. But the aroma comes loaded: you’re breathing in potentially carcinogenic, gaseous chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a 2007 Taiwanese study found.

Stay safe:

The VOCs persist long after the smell is gone, and levels increase when your car heats up. So aim for shady parking spots. If sun is unavoidable, the Ecology Centre in Michigan suggests using a windshield
sunshade or cracking your windows slightly to let the vapours escape.

Stereo

Cranking up the radio may be harming your heart, according to a 2009 study from South Korea. Researchers found that men who were regularly exposed to noise of 85 decibels or above had significantly higher systolic blood pressure after nine years than those in quieter surroundings. Many stereos’ maximum volumes exceed 100 decibels.

Stay safe:

Normal conversation averages about 60 decibels, a safe level for extended listening, according to the National Institutes of Health. So do a sound check in your car: with your favourite Jay-Z album blasting, speak at your normal volume. Now turn the stereo’s volume down until you can clearly hear your voice over Jigga’s.

Cruise control

Running on cruise can delay your reaction time by about five seconds, according to a 2011 German study that tested drivers as they entered road curves or foggy spots – places you don’t want to waste reaction time.

Stay safe:

Hit cruise control only on flat, straight roads on sunny days. And when you do, keep both feet on the floor so you can brake if necessary.