The classic American road trip is not a thing of the past, despite more and more people choosing to jet off to foreign lands these days. What better time to gather up the family to embark on an old-fashioned drive to enjoy the open road than summertime? Whether you're taking a trip to a nearby beach or driving all the way across the country, the most important thing to do is to make sure you are well prepared enough to make the trip safely and soundly.
So before heading on up to those hills or over to that coastal shore, take some time to peruse through this handy dandy list to help both you and the kids better enjoy that gorgeous summer sun. Buckle up, hit the road, and relish in the unique experience of traveling on land one inch at a time without encountering any of the nasty road rigors that typically come along with. Here are six summer road trip safety tips for you to take careful note of.
Road Trip Safety Reminders to Consider This Summer
1.Plan way ahead, way way ahead.
It’s always best to be prepared, no matter what you do or where you go, especially when it comes to enduring the unpredictability of the open road. First and foremost, when mapping out the drive to your new destination, make sure to have a thorough understanding of the route, and to be totally aware of any potential obstacles or trouble spots, such as heavy traffic or construction areas.
When grinding out long miles on the road, it’s often easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time—think crossing the Hudson River at rush hour or sitting amidst an ugly array of red lights on the I-405 Freeway on a Friday afternoon. Plan your trip accordingly so that you can avoid all the dangerous and stress-inducing areas as much as possible. Just be sure not to miss out on all those fun roadside attractions along the way!
2. Have S.O.S on speed dial by joining a roadside rescue service.
If you’ve taken enough road trips, you’re bound to be well aware that sooner or later, you’ll eventually find yourself stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere just a few miles south of Anytown, U.S.A. Having a nice little 800-number on hand that can immediately connect you to approved local tow services and mechanics is not only going to be a total lifesaver, but will save you a lot of hassle, tons of stress, and shield you from any other unwanted road dangers that none of us wish ever to have to encounter. You might even want to invest in a GPS navigation system that’ll save you the distraction (and headache) of squinting over a bunch of confusing Thomas Guide maps.
3. Stay alert and give yourself plenty of time.
Sure, everybody wants to get to their destination quickly, but more importantly, you want to enjoy all the American country has to offer by stopping to take in some scenery along the way—all while doing it in the safest way possible. Make a good time without making a lot of stops by planning your trip so that you will not need to drive for more than eight hours per day. Allow time to make plenty of stops at least every two hours to stretch those legs, to use the loo, and to get some much needed fresh air.
Research has shown that drivers who have been behind the wheel for more than eight hours have nearly twice the risk of crashing, when compared with drivers who have been on the road less than two hours. So make sure you have a co-pilot that you can switch off with when it’s time to rest up. This way, you can avoid drowsy driving, be plenty rested for the entire trip, and have yourself a super fun filled experience with nice little breaks along the way to eat, drink, and be merry—and to snap some family pictures, of course!
4. Be prepared for anything and everything… Just in case.
When on the road, you never ever know what might or might not happen. So be sure to pack an emergency roadside kit that contains, at the very minimum, signaling devices, a pocket knife, a first aid kit, and lots of water to stow away some place that’s easily reachable inside the car. Many stores even offer ready-made kits for purchase that include everything from first aid supplies, fire extinguishers, reflective triangles, tire gauges, jumper cables, and flashlights, to extra batteries, gloves, duct tape, warm blankets, and ponchos for unexpected summer storms—which require extreme caution, as roads will likely become very slippery in the first few minutes of rainfall since the rain mixes with the oil and dirt on the road (it’ll take about half an hour of steady rain to wash all oil and dirt off the road!). Also make sure to manage glare and heat by keeping sunglasses handy, and by using a sun shield beneath your windshield when parking so that the interior heat stays at a constant low.
Be sure not to exceed your car’s payload capacity when packing though, and to double check that you can clearly see out of all the windows before pulling out of that driveway. Every owner’s manual usually has information about the maximum weight of all cargo and passengers that a vehicle can safely carry.
5. Inspect that automobile to the max.
Nothing ruins a warm sunny day like getting stranded on the side of the desert road waiting for a tow truck to come bail you and the fam bam out of some deep trouble. Getaway to the big city, over to that lake, or on into the woods more quickly by ensuring that your vehicle is in tip top shape. Here are a few must dos:
- Check those wheels: Low tire pressure can hurt your car's fuel economy and make it harder to steer, which is a serious safety issue. Plus, keeping tire pressure at the manufacturer’s recommended level increases fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon of gas — something that’s super important in the summer months when gas prices rise. Also, make sure you have plenty of tread (by using the penny test), and that the wear is distributed evenly along each tire.
- Make sure wiper blades are in working order, and verify that the car has all the proper fluid levels: Running low (or out) of air conditioning coolant on a hot summer day can make for an uber unpleasant ride, especially if there are small children involved. Avoid the sweat and the tears by keeping that cool breeze flowing. Also remember to refill on window washer fluid reservoir, as windshields will likely become covered in dust and dirty dead bugs during any long road trip. Quickly and easily remove these messes at a gas station by ensuring that your window washer fluid reservoir is full.
- Double-check that all your lights are working, as well as all brakes, belts, and turn signals: Brakes are among the most important safety devices in your car, as worn-out brakes can often mean the difference between a harsh stop or a serious accident. Swing by a local shop to have the wear on your pads inspected before hitting the road—it only takes a few minutes for most cars, and a visual inspection is really all that’s needed to literally save your life. Also remember that belts become dry and brittle as automobiles age, causing them to crack, wear down, and to eventually break down. If your belt snaps on the road, your car will cease to work and you'll lose a lot of time and a whole lot of dough. Take the time to get a belt inspection done along with that brake and light check. It’s a tiny fraction of time and effort when compared to being towed all the way back home from the middle of nowhere.
6. Stock up on goodies for the road ahead.
Despite all the safety preparations, it’s important to prepare for the fun that’ll be had as well! Remember to pack essential road trip supplies, such as snacks, liquids, games, activities, or even audio books to keep yourself and the kids happy and entertained. You also can’t forget those tunes, as any road trip isn’t a true road trip without some excellent jams blaring out of those speakers. Keep in mind that your streaming services might not work if you don’t pick up internet on your journey, so plan for offline music as well by taking along those iPods, Walkmans, or to go way old school by loading up a couple of mixed CDs (or cassette tapes!) to sing along to.
In terms of grub, be sure to stop at a grocery store and to stock up on some convenient and healthy road snacks the night before leaving town so that you’ve got a cooler full of fruit-infused water, granola bars, and homemade sandwiches on tap. You’ll be much less tempted to snag a sugary soda and a bag of Doritos from a gas station if you’ve got much better goodies on hand.
7. Share the road, sharpen your driving skills, and enjoy the ride.
The most important safety feature and the key to ensuring that you reach your destination safely is first and foremost a safe driver. Refresh your defensive driving skills and knowledge of the rules of the road by going through a safe driving course, such as an AARP Driver Safety’s classroom or online courses, both excellent ways to hone your skills and to keep your family safe. In some states, you might even be eligible for an insurance discount upon completion of the AARP Driver Safety course!
Some of the most fantastic memories are born through road trips, so make sure to take full advantage of the best views, tourist attractions, and roadside diners along the highway by truly getting the chance to enjoy that open road. There are even a variety of tools available, such as the “Roadside America” smartphone app, designed to describe all of the road trip must-sees along any given route. Let’s get that ride on!
This article was written by Pamela Chan.