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WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, June 14, 2021) ––It made headlines across the globe. “Flying Cicada Caused Driver to Crash Car Into Pole.” So far, it is an isolated incident, perhaps. Within earshot of all is their relentless thrumming and twanging mating call. And oh yes, the most powerful person on the planet was caught red-handed on cameras swatting a cicada off his neck before boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County. The “buzz” around the region with the Brood X cicadas return, after 17 years underground, is not only the public nuisance they cause, but the automotive issues for drivers.
In heat, periodic cicadas are like heat-seeking missiles, emerging “from the ground every 17 years to mate” and buzzing around your vehicle. In fact, cicadas’ attraction to heat can lead to vehicle overheating and air flow issues, according to AAA automotive experts.
“While cicadas are harmless, they can cause quite a bit of damage externally and internally to vehicles,” explained Melvin Escobar, Car Care Manager, AAA Rockville Car Care Center. “Drivers are urged to take proactive steps to protect their vehicles while cicadas are in the area.”
If a cicada flies into your vehicle while driving, “don’t bug out.” Don’t panic, in other words. Keep your hands on the wheel. Keep your eyes on the road and on traffic, and not on the cicada, advises AAA Driver Education. “Don’t slam on the brakes. Don’t stop in a traffic lane. Simply slow down and slowly pull over. Once in a safe place, roll down the window, and the cicada will bid you farewell,” advised Escobar.
As temperatures soar, cicadas and their cacophony are ubiquitous across the region. It is said “cicadas can make as much noise as a motorcycle.” That might or might not be the case. Even more so than drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists, and any and all afoot, are on the front line of close encounters with cicadas. Even if a motorcyclist wears a helmet, smashing into a cicada or any insect while going at highway speeds isn’t going to be a pleasant encounter. Think bugs on the teeth and cicadas in nostrils. Motorcyclists must wear the “right gear” to protect themselves from flying bugs and debris and the elements. “Don’t stop with a helmet. Wear other protective gear, such as motorcycle gloves, jacket and pants.” Your face and knuckles will thank you.
Bugs or insects flying into the cabin of vehicles comprise “a tiny fraction of all causes of crashes,” some research shows. Yet one law firm claims “650,000 accident have been caused by bugs flying inside vehicles!” Who are you going to believe? Some years ago, NHTSA researchers actually analyzed the odds ratios of “near-crash/crash risks” caused by driver inattention due to secondary factors, such as “an insect in the vehicle,” as well as factor such as “handling a CD, talking or listening to a hand-held device and reaching for an object (not moving).”
That’s not all. Cicadas were the culprits in the grounding of a White House press plane that was bound to the G7 in Europe. The cicadas reportedly “invaded the engines.” Cicadas can do damage to your car. They can clog radiator grills and cause paint corrosion on your shiny vehicle. So “primp your ride” with regularity.
Remove the splatter, the tree sap, and normal road grime regularly. Sometimes wipers and windshield washer fluids alone are not enough to clear the front windshield and windows of dead cicadas and other insects. “Bug wash” windshield washer fluids are designed to remove bug residual, bird droppings and tree sap. Accordingly, as drivers return to work and embark on summer road trips, AAA auto pros have rounded up the best ways to keep cars clean and also avoid costly vehicle repairs when buzzing cicadas get busy.
AAA offers the following tips to keep your vehicle cicada free:
Protect the Exterior of the Vehicle: Bug remains sitting on your car for too long will eat away at your car’s exterior. Wash your vehicle frequently with a car wash solution (not household dish washing detergent) paying special attention to the windshield and headlights. Waxing your vehicle can also add an extra layer of protection.
Wipers: Make sure your wipers are working and your washer fluid is full. Special bug washer fluid with advanced technology can be purchased from local stores to keep the glass bug free and enhance driving visibility.
Clear the grill: Cicadas can do real damage to vehicles by clogging radiator grills, causing the engine to overheat. Get a grille cover, bug screen or just stretch some netting over the front of your car.
Filters: Cabin and air filters can become a playground for cicadas as these insects like to hide in the air filter or in the cabin filter housing. Drivers should pay attention to these areas, listen for any unusual sounds and bring their car into a AAA Car Care Center, or AAA Approved Auto Repair facility for a free maintenance inspection.
By the way, if a cicada does get into the vehicle, like a recent incident in Cincinnati, where a driver crashed into a pole, AAA provides these four salient safety tips:
- Keep your cool. Remain calm and keep your attention on the road until you can locate a safe place to pull over. If there are passengers in the car, advise them to remain calm as well.
- Travel with windows and sunroofs closed. This will reduce the chance of a cicada getting into the car.
- Don’t get flummoxed when a cicada invades your car. Say “Shoo, fly!” One’s response to the invasion can be a distraction and increase odds of a crash and potential danger to you, passengers and other drivers.
- Wear your seat belt. Remember to buckle up – every trip, every time, no matter the circumstance.
The Cincinnati Police Department twitter account summed up the fear of some drivers.
“#Crash single car into a pole at 2600 Riverside Drive. Caused by a cicada that flew in through an open window striking the driver in the face. #nothinggoodhappenswithcicadas #cicadas2021 pic.twitter.com/0WWUM8y5Ye .”
Even before the emergence of the Brood X cicadas, one writer concluded: “It turns out that an insect in your car is really dangerous; a bug in your car increases your risk of a crash by more than six times compared to an attentive driver (without any insects in the car). That’s a greater risk than dialing a phone, putting on makeup or reading a book.” Well, more research is warranted.
There are trillions of them out there – “all three 17-year species, Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini and Magicicada septendecula” - and they are looking for “love on the run.” The cacophony of cicadas won’t be around much longer, depending on the weather and the latitude. Pretty soon, the mating call or song of periodic cicadas will be their “swan song,” as it were, and just another sweet summer memory.
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