Planning a Safe Road Trip

Road trips can be great fun. Whether you’re heading out with your family, your friends, or on your own, it’s always a good idea to keep safety in mind. Unless you enjoy juggling road hazards and unanticipated risks, consider these few tips before you go. They’ll help you bypass a few not-so-great surprises and help you have a safe road trip.

Make Sure Your Car Is Roadworthy

Road trips are exciting. Before any such trip, you should eliminate your vehicle-breakdown potential. If you’ve driven long distances before, you know the drill. You should do the following:

  • Check your tires, windshield wipers, and other car parts that require periodic replacement due to wear and tear.
  • Replace, refill, or at least check critical fluids, such as oil, coolant, transmission fluid, and windshield washer fluid.
  • Make sure your air conditioner blows out cool air rather than hot air.
  • Double-check your young passengers’ safety and booster seats to make sure they’re installed properly. If you’re not sure about what a proper seat installation looks like, call your local fire department or children’s hospital to see if they’ll do a no-fee installation check.
  • Ask your mechanic to take a look under your car’s hood to make sure you won’t have any surprise mechanical problems.

Plan Your Route Ahead of Time

If you have a smartphone or an onboard GPS system in your car, you no longer need MapQuest or a AAA Trip-Tik to plan your road trip. You can simply enter your coordinates and go, but be careful. If you use a phone app, work your GPS magic before you leave home. Program and save the coordinates, then give the phone to a passenger to help you navigate. Some states will ticket you if you use your phone for any reason while driving, including navigation.

Know the Distracted Driving Laws in the States Through Which You Plan to Drive

It took a long time for police departments to recognize that cell phones and cars constitute a dangerous combination. However, police quickly caught up and are now very serious about their enforcement of distracted driving restrictions. Distracted driving can be anything that takes your hands, mind, or eyes off the road, and authorities see smartphones and other digital devices as the primary culprits.
Consider any relevant distracted driving laws before you pick up your phone to check your location, your messages, or your Facebook timeline. Make sure you know and understand local phone, texting, and other digital restrictions. States are cracking down on digital devices because the evidence proves that using them while driving causes accidents. Washington recently enacted a hands-free law, which means you’ll receive a citation if any part of your body touches any part of your phone while you’re driving. It also applies to putting on makeup.
For a brief recap of nationwide distracted driving phone laws, view the chart on the Governor’s Highway Safety Association website.

Don’t Forget About Roadside Assistance

You’ll really appreciate a AAA membership when a local tow truck driver fixes your flat tire on a lonely highway far from home. Before you hand over your money for a new membership card, be sure to check your auto insurance policy first. Some insurers include roadside assistance coverage when you buy comprehensive and collision insurance. Others offer it as an optional element of your policy.
Review your auto policy before you hit the highway. Roadside assistance coverage varies depending on your insurance company. Some insurers will have a tow truck respond when you have an emergency; whereas, others reimburse you for incurred towing and emergency labor. Regardless, you must always submit towing as part of your claim.

Ensure That Your Insurance Coverage Is Up-to-Date

Before you leave home, make sure that you’ve paid your auto insurance premium. It won’t help if you remember you’ve forgotten to pay after you crash into someone’s car. Also, make sure you have an up-to-date insurance card, either paper or digitally stored on your smartphone.
All states have financial responsibility laws. You must show proof of insurance if you’re involved in an accident. You don’t have to meet other states’ limit requirements, but you do have to prove that you can pay for any damages that you cause. You can view a brief digest of state laws and financial responsibility requirements on AAA’s website.

Download a Travel App

If you’re traveling a long way from home, you’ll appreciate a gas app that can help you save on travel costs. Apps like GasBuddy and Gas Guru tell you where to find gas for the best prices. GasBuddy also gives you a per-gallon discount. Gas Guru has a feature that lets you save the location, so you can stop for low priced gas if you return home the same way you came.
Waze is a multipurpose, crowd-sourced app. The app gathers information from other users to help you avoid traffic jams, find travel shortcuts, locate the best gas prices, and perform other helpful functions. All of these three apps are free; you’ll find them and similar apps in your IOS or Play store.

Don’t Get a Speeding Ticket

It’s annoying when you see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. It’s worse when you realize that those flashing lights are coming after you. Nothing can ruin a road trip like a surprise stop by a local police officer. Speeders inspire police officers to act, and there’s a good reason for that. Speed is a major factor in causing accidents and greatly affects crash and injury severity.
Here are a few statistics published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that you should consider before you decide to ramp up your speed:

  • 26 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide are speed-related.
  • People usually drive faster than the speed limit. Higher speed limits motivate speeders to drive even faster.
  • A visible law enforcement presence reduces excessive speeding.
  • 37,000 traffic fatalities over the past 25 years were directly related to speed limit increases.

You can prevent adverse speed-related outcomes by knowing a little bit about the speed limits in the states through which you plan to drive. Some roads won’t always have speed limits conveniently posted. You can still avoid problems by checking out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s chart of maximum posted speed limits by state.

Miscellaneous Road Trip Items

Of course, you know to bring snacks and plenty of water on your road trip. If you’re traveling with children, you’ll need kid-friendly activities, games, and a digital pad to keep up with daily screen-time. You should also have a working car charger and cord to keep your smartphone active and ready for emergencies.
Perhaps most important, you should feel well-rested before setting off. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association lists drowsy driving as a risky driving behavior. You’ll drive most safely if you sleep well the night before you hit the road.

June 27, 2019

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