Once the thermometer reaches 30C and over, the risk of accident increases by 22 percent, traffic psychologist Franz Nechtelberger told the Kurier newspaper. “The body is busy trying to cool itself down, so it draws blood from various organs such as the spleen, liver and the brain,” he said. “When the brain doesn’t have enough oxygen people are more likely to become aggressive.”
Health experts say that once outdoor temperatures rise above 37C, things become more dangerous. “Anything over 37C is a fever and everyone knows that you are slower to react when you have a fever,” Nechtelberger said.
The most recent example of an overheated situation leading to violence occurred on Saturday afternoon on the Ostautobahn in Burgenland. A Swiss couple were forced to stop their car by a driver with a Vienna license plate who was driving dangerously.
Words were exchanged and the Austrian man and his passenger dragged the Swiss couple out of their car, and physically assaulted them. Police are still looking for the Austrian driver and his companion, who are both thought to be around 25 years old and around 1.90 metres tall.
Functioning air conditioning could be the key to avoiding road rage. According to a study from motoring association ARBÖ, half of all Europeans only switch on their air conditioning when temperatures hit 28C. The ideal temperature for a car is 22C – with everything above this having an impact on a driver’s performance and concentration.
The ARBÖ study noted that although many motorists think switching on the air con spreads germs, air conditioning actually filters 87 percent of particulate matter from the air and thus helps prevent colds.
Nechtelberger said the heatwave is also detrimental for cyclists, who easily become overheated. Last week there were six bike accidents on just one day in Vienna.
A study by criminologist Andreas Lohmeyer shows that sexual offences and violent crimes also increase during hot summer months.
“In general, police can see that people act differently in very hot weather,” police spokesman Roman Hahslinger said, adding that many people seem to be “in a trance” and don’t pay attention – leading to more accidents.