Knowing is half the battle

These public service announcements could save your life

David Matthews / May 01, 2018
David Matthews

Stop rodent road dents

Warning: California drivers, be on the lookout for giant rodents with huge orange teeth!

Known as nutria, these creatures are 2.5-ft long (not counting their 12-in. tail) and can weigh up to 20 lb. They are often mistaken for beavers or muskrats, but don’t be fooled. Nutria are incredibly destructive, with the ability to destroy roads and wetlands.

Nutria are semiaquatic and prefer to live near water. They like to burrow into dikes, drainage canals, levees and road beds, weakening flood-control systems and other infrastructure, and potentially causing roads to collapse.

If you spot a nutria, do not attempt to fight it. They are known to bite, claw and carry at least one parasite that can infect humans with “nutria itch,” also known as “creeping eruption.”

So where did these monsters come from? They’re native to South America and were introduced to California in 1899 for their mink-like fur. They were thought to be eradicated in the late 1970s, but now it seems that a few survivors have been lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to exact their revenge.

At least 24 nutria have been spotted in California’s wetlands over the past year, but there are likely many more in hiding. Nutria are prolific multipliers, bearing dozens of babies each year.

California is fighting back with traps and trail cameras, but the state needs your help. Report any sightings of these rapscallions before California becomes known more for rampant road collapses and “creeping eruptions” than swimming pools and movie stars.

Plug your ears, increase your years

Everyone knows that cars can be dangerous, but getting hit by one is no longer our biggest threat.

Several recent studies have found that the noise from vehicles, including loud exhaust systems, sirens and honking horns, is not just annoying; it actually threatens our health.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published research demonstrating that sleep disruptions caused by loud sounds from roadways set off the human stress response, which over time can cause heart damage.

The noise itself also can be an issue. Anything louder than 60 decibels (dBA) can increase the risk of heart disease, including cars on the highway (77 dBA), motorcycles (90 dBA) and car horns (110 dBA).

And the bad news keeps coming. Another study published in the European Heart Journal found that exposure to traffic noise can increase blood sugar levels, which are linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

And if you’re not scared already, another study published in the Journal of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery found that the sounds of a typical commute can damage hearing and affect mental health.

Repeated exposure to noise from subways, streetcars, buses and cars can lead to hearing loss over the longer term, and can cause anxiety, depression, chronic diseases and increased risk of accidents.

On the plus side, while traffic noise may damage your heart, ears and brain, it hasn’t yet been linked to creeping eruptions.

No splash is worth a rash

Cars and water usually don’t mix, especially when the water is on the inside of the car.

So if your buddy invites you over to take a ride in his new “Carpool DeVille” that he recently bought at an auction in Arizona for $26,400 because it holds the Guinness World Record for “World’s Fastest Mobile Hot Tub” after being clocked at 160 mph, just say no.

Sure, it would be fun to ride around in a 1969 Cadillac DeVille where the entire interior has been transformed into a hot tub, heated to a balmy 102°F by a V8 engine. But just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Hot tubs are the perfect environment for Legionella bacteria, which causes a severe type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease.

Pseudomonas bacteria can cause Hot Tub Rash, resulting in an itchy, bumpy red rash and pus-filled blisters.

Infections can be caused by contact with bodily fluids, as well as what the industry calls “bather waste.”

Dirty hot tubs also can lead to shigellosis and E. coli infection. And let’s not forget about waterborne parasites like cryptosporidium and giardia, which are tolerant to chlorine.

So when your friend asks you to jump in for a soak, tell him you don’t want to croak!

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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