Road Trip Safety
It’s inevitable that we have to drive a long distance at some point in our lives and we would like to do so safely. Whether we are going on vacation or moving cross-country, getting the drive over with as quickly as possible is usually the objective. Before embarking on your next four-wheeled adventure, consider the following to help you stay alert and safe:
- Plan in advance. Be sure to plan out your trip well ahead of time. Get yourself a quality road map and determine the best route to take. Study your route often and become familiar with the names of towns and route numbers. The more you familiarize yourself with the route, the less often you will need to refer to your map while driving. Also, determine where the major centers are along your route for gas, meal and bathroom breaks. Another thing to keep in mind is where you might need to stay for the night. Book hotels in advance if you can or you may find yourself in a town hosting an event that takes up every room for a 600-mile radius.
- Avoid long weekends. Traveling during a holiday period is the worst time for traffic and the peak time for highway accidents. Avoid weekends and peak travel times as much as possible. Plan your trip to take place from Monday to Thursday. Friday and Sunday (or Monday) evenings will be the busiest times on the road.
- Start your trip at night. Take the day of your trip to finish packing and running last minute errands and also try to squeeze in a little nap. Leave late in the evening when the traffic has settled down and then drive through the night. There is much less traffic on the highways and a lot less distraction. Night driving however is not for everyone. Not everyone is able to stay awake during those hours and you run the risk of falling asleep while driving. If you are not comfortable or able to drive at night, keep your driving times to daylight hours only. Also be aware that at night, the risk of animals on the highway and the inability to see them increases. Heavy truck traffic will also increase since truck drivers take advantage of the reduction in traffic at this time. Another drawback to night driving is facing a bright sunrise after staring into the dark all night – be prepared to pull over and sleep at this time.
- Know your limits. If you can only drive for a few hours at a time, don’t try to push it for longer. If you are driving a long distance for the first time, start out in small intervals. Be prepared to stop for the night if you are not able to drive through it. If you’ve gone a long distance and only have a few more miles to go but just can’t hang on, pull off and take a nap. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Stay alert. Most people use caffeine to stay alert, and a lot of coffee is necessary to stay awake through the night. A lot of liquid often means a lot of pit stops. Consider high-energy drinks or even chocolate covered coffee beans as an alternative. Be aware of your body’s ability to process caffeine if you are not a regular coffee drinker.
- Share the driving. If you have someone along for the trip, share the driving duties as much as possible. Help each other stay alert while driving by talking and both paying attention to the road for each other. If you will be traveling alone, consider placing an ad in the paper for a travel companion – someone may prefer that to taking a bus or airplane.
- Take regular breaks. You’ll have no choice but to stop for gas regularly, but if you can go eight hours on a single tank, you might want to consider taking a break somewhere in between gas stops. Get out and stretch and have a snack.
- Keep it cool. Whether it’s summer or winter, keep the interior temperature of the vehicle comfortably cool. If you have it too warm, your ability to be alert and stay awake will be diminished. Also avoid direct air to your face since it will dry out your eyes and increase your sleepiness.
- Get comfortable. A few hours into a long drive and any car’s armrest can start to feel like a rock. Bring lots of pillows – one for each arm, your neck, butt, and lower lumbar. Try not to get so comfortable that you’ll fall asleep, but use the pillows to avoid the discomfort of sitting in the same position for a long period of time. Also, set the temperature to the right comfort level, have your drink and snacks handy, and play your favorite music.
- Don’t pull over – pull off! Never stop on the side of the road to take a nap. Find a rest stop, truck stop, Wal-Mart parking lot, side road or anywhere that you will not run the risk of being struck by an approaching vehicle. Never park on the shoulder of the road, not even to read the map. If you have to pull over on the shoulder for any reason, get out of your car and move away from the side of the road. Don’t assume that all approaching vehicles will pass by you safely.
Long distance driving can be fun and exhausting at the same time. Keep safety in mind when driving at all times. Avoid getting too comfortable and throwing off your seat belt to stretch out. Arrive at your destination safely.