You have waited all year for a break from your chaotic routine of early morning rush hour, work, and chaperoning the kids to and from extracurricular activities. The thought of spending more time in the car may feel a bit crazy, but summer road trips are memorable, full of adventure, and a good excuse to have family bonding. Whether you are traveling 100 miles to your favorite state park or 1,000 miles cross country to see the ocean, as a family, for the first time, you need to be safe, prepared, and free from distractions. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 25% of all car accidents are caused by distracted driving; so whether you’re fumbling with the GPS or telling your kids to pipe down, cutting down on your distractions will ensure some safety on your road trip.
Don’t get Distracted or Lost, Map out your Trip
Even before you pack up the car, it’s important to know where you’re going and how to get there. The beauty of modern technology allows today’s drivers to seek out a plethora of resources in order to flawlessly map out their car trips. Whether you prefer a GPS system, directions printed from the internet, or the “old school” foldout map, figuring out your route is vital. A lost driver, driving slowly, switching back and forth between lanes, or making last minute decisions (such as sudden merging) can be a danger to fellow motorists. Additionally, use caution when using maps or a GPS, as both can be a distraction. If you prefer a GPS with voice-command, use it sparingly. While such particular devices offer a “keep your hands on the wheel” approach, following voice commands can get annoying and frustrating especially if you are in heavy traffic areas.
Pack a Safe Car
Packing the car is a lot more difficult than it looks. In some families, there seems to be a designated “car packer” who can fit the family’s luggage in a small space with room to spare. When loading up the car, it’s important to make sure that the driver has clear visibility all around the car, meaning no windows or mirrors should be obstructed by piles of luggage. When traveling with the kids, make sure all of their essential car stuff, such as books, toys, and electronic devices, are within their reach. Nothing’s more distracting than a kid, in the backseat, whining for something to do and you have to take one hand off of the wheel to reach behind the seat and blindly search for a dropped toy. When helping your children pack, make sure they have quiet activities, such as books or drawing pads. If they are insistent on bringing an electronic device, such as an iPad or Mp3 player, make sure there are headphones attached. Listening to “Gangnam Style” over and over, while trying to concentrate on a 6-lane freeway could be quite distracting.
Depending on when you grew up, buckling up is second nature or maybe you have to remind yourself every so often to buckle up. It’s odd to think that there was ever a time when seat belts and car seats were merely an option. You might even remember your own road trips, as a kid, taking turns with your siblings and retrieving items from the back of the station wagon. You might have crawled over the bench seat, most likely blocking Mom or Dad’s view, rummaged through the cooler for a snack, and returned to your seat, probably forgetting to wear your seat belt. And you lived to tell the tale of a time when there were no seat belt laws and airbags were just a futuristic idea. But today, you know better and you know that seat belt saves lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about 50%, so really there’s no reason not to wear them. You will also want to make sure that if you have children, who are young enough for car seats, they should be buckled up properly and in a seat designed for their age, weight and height. If you must get something out of the back of your car, don’t send anyone back while the car is in motion. Safely pull over and get what you need.
You already know that noisy kids, nagging GPS voice commands, and having passengers moving around freely in the car can be distracting while driving, but there a lot more potential distractions to consider before heading out on your road trip. A distraction is anything that would take a driver’s attention away from the road, endangering the driver, passengers, and fellow motorists. So, reconsider these when the car is in motion: food and drink, music, talking with passengers, and cellphone use, just to name a few. Think you’re road trip will be a total bore without any of these things? It might be a little less exciting, but it will be a whole lot safer. Rather than snacking or eating dinner while on the road, take advantage of roadside stops or picture worthy landmarks. Grab a blanket, have a picnic, stretch your legs, look at the map, and check your voicemails (just don’t do these things while driving).
Chances are and fingers crossed, you won’t need a band-aid or jumper cables while on the road, but it’s always best to be prepared for the bad (and even the worst). The NHTSA suggests having a Roadside Kit packed away in the car including, but not limited to: a first aid kit, jug of water and non-perishable food, flashlight and basic tools, jumper cables, and extra windshield wiper fluid. Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to have your vehicle tuned up before you go. You’ll want to make sure your vehicle’s fluids are topped off, the tires are in good condition, and the oil is clean. You don’t want to find you and your family stranded in the middle of nowhere or on the side of a busy freeway because you forgot to have regular maintenance work done to the vehicle.
Road trip to Remember
For many families, a road trip is the only time to travel as a family and to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States. Whether you travel to see the Redwoods of California or the Great Lakes of Michigan, memories will be made and maybe even your “plugged-in-eye-rolling-teen” will take off her headphones for a minute or two to join the “I Spy” road game. To make sure you and your family stay safe while navigating miles and miles of road, eliminate distractions and keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes and mind on the road.
About the Author:
Andrew Miller is a passionate member of the End Ecocide movement, an avid legal blogger and Environmental Law Student. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life. As a Socialpreneur, he is an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.