My family and I recently drove from Chicago to Disney World and back. Although some people might cringe at the thought of a family road trip of that length, we kind of like it. Plus, even factoring in hotels, gas, and extra meals, driving was cheaper than flying, and we didn’t have as many baggage restrictions.
As much as I enjoy road trips, I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel some trepidation each time we set out on one. I guess that goes with the territory of being a safety advocate who is all too aware of the dangers of car crashes. We do our best to be prepared, though.
Before this trip, my husband took our van in to have the tires rotated and inspected. We learned that we were close to needing to replace the tires. Due to a few unexpected house repairs, necessary appliance purchases, and lots of medical expenditures, the last thing we wanted was to spend more money on tires. We discussed holding off until after the trip. Assuming the recommendation was a conservative one, we even discussed not replacing the tires at all since we might trade the car in next year.
But the treads were getting close to being concerning, and ultimately my husband and I are both too safety conscious to take the risk, so we got the new tires.
A few days later we were driving through Georgia when we ran into some horrible storms south of Atlanta. These were among the worst storms I’ve ever driven in—the type where at times you can barely even see in front of you. I would have liked to pull off the road, but there were no safe opportunities. Instead we stayed with the flow of traffic (which was thankfully slow) and maintained a safe distance from the car ahead of us.
At one point we encountered a flooded section of interstate. We weren’t able to stop or swerve, so our only option was to drive through the enormous puddle. For a couple seconds, it was like being in a car wash: We could see absolutely nothing and could only hope that we wouldn’t hit the car in front of us (or get hit by the car behind us).
Thankfully no one crashed. After we took a few breaths, my husband said, “I’m really glad we got these new tires.” I can’t say for sure that things would have been different with our old ones, but I wouldn’t want to find out, either.
If you’re planning any road trips this summer, here are some guidelines to follow to ensure your trip is safe and pleasant.
- Check your tires. (See? There was a reason for my story.) Check the tire pressure, check the treads. Have the tires rotated if they’re due, and invest in new ones if you need to.
- Have your car serviced. Make sure it’s in prime operating condition before you hit the road.
- Check for recalls.
- Pack well. Avoid putting heavy luggage in the passenger area. If you have an open cargo area, put heavier items on the bottom and lighter items on top. Use cargo covers or tie-downs to help keep things in place. On long trips, it’s inevitable that you’ll have some books, toys, and electronics around the passengers, but try to keep items stored when they’re not being used.
- Make sure everyone is properly restrained. Some people want to turn rear-facing kids forward-facing for long trips, but avoid that temptation. Besides being less safe, it’s less convenient. Kids are more likely to drop stuff when they’re forward-facing since they’re no longer sitting in a “bowl,” and their legs dangle uncomfortably and kick your seat. Plus, rear-facing kids are in a better position to sleep comfortably.
- Use apps safely. Navigation apps like Waze can help alert you to hazards and unsafe road conditions. Be responsible with how you use them, though: It’s best if a passenger is in charge of anything app-related. We don’t want a distracted driver.
- Avoid drowsy driving. Some people like driving at night so they can arrive sooner, they can avoid hotel costs, and so the kids will (ideally) sleep in the car. Unless you’re used to operating vehicles at night, though, this might not be the best idea. Fatigue is a real safety concern, especially on unfamiliar roads in nighttime conditions. Pay attention to fatigue during the day, too. Pull off if you get drowsy.
- Take frequent breaks. I get the temptation to power through and just get there already, but taking breaks results in happier kids and refreshed adults (especially the driver). Stop for food or an exercise break every few hours or whenever the driver needs to. Frisbees, balls, and pocket kites can be fun ways to get out some energy at rest stops or parks, or just play tag or Simon Says.
- Keep an emergency kit. Make sure you have things like water and snacks, bandaids, and a flashlight. We have something like this jump-starter/air compressor, which also includes 12-volt and USB outlets.
As you set out on your summer travels, have fun and stay safe.