In a perfect world, holiday road trips would reliably invoke images only of togetherness, fun, and a spirit of adventure. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
In this world, holiday road trips also mean higher-than-average traffic crash fatalities: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration forecasts a walloping 454 deaths for Thanksgiving weekend (Wednesday to Monday), and 799 deaths for the period between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Beyond the worst-case scenario of a fatal crash, holiday road trips are ripe for unplanned disasters like fender benders, flat tires, breakdowns, getting lost, or getting overcome by road rage.
That’s why holiday driving tips are not just a “nice to have” — they’re an absolute “must have.” So, before you head out on a holiday road trip this year, check out these nine tips to ensure a safe trip.
1. Check Your Roadside Assistance Policy
If you were to get a flat tire, run out of gas, have your car break down, or get into an accident, do you know who you’re gonna call? Some people haven’t really thought through what they’d do. Others have multiple roadside assistance options, either through their auto insurance company, their cell phone carrier, or AAA. Whichever category you fall into, it’s important that you have a plan in mind — and contact information at hand — so that you can get help quickly if you need to.
So, before you go, review your options and figure out what makes the most sense. (Keep in mind that it may not be your auto insurer. Carriers may hold roadside incidents against you, raising your rates.) Put all roadside assistance numbers directly into your phone, so you’re not madly shuffling through your glove compartment during a time of crisis. If you can use an app to request assistance, consider downloading it.
2. Check Your License, Registration, and Insurance
You know the drill. “License and registration, please,” will be the request of any law enforcement official who has reason to talk with you about your car or your driving. And in the wholly unfortunate circumstances that you are involved in an accident, you’ll also need a valid insurance card. So, before you head out, make sure you’ve got up-to-date copies of both your vehicle registration and auto insurance information. As an added backup, take a photo of each one and save them in your smartphone. And of course, make sure that (unexpired!) driver’s license is safely where it should be, in your wallet or bag.
3. Do a Safety/Maintenance Check on the Vehicle
Proper preventive maintenance is especially important for safe driving on a long road trip. Check your oil and other fluids (i.e., coolant, window washing fluid, brake fluid). Inspect your tires and check their pressure. Eyeball your battery, making sure it’s not leaking corrosive fluid. Check your car’s belts, looking for signs of wear and listening for any telltale squealing. Have someone help you make sure that your turn signals, tail lights, headlights, and reverse lights are all operational, watching as you test each one in turn. Check your wipers, and make sure windows are clean enough to ensure clear visibility. Consider packing up, or purchasing, a roadside emergency kit. Finally, if you’ll be driving in snowy, icy conditions where chains may be required, make sure you’ve got them packed.
4. Map Your Route
“FOILED BY TECHNOLOGY.” It’s the regretful refrain of many a driver, having placed too much trust in Google Maps, Waze, MapQuest, or Apple Maps. Though it’s highly inconvenient to admit it, it’s undeniably true: Online maps don’t always have all the information. Just ask our friends, who recently hauled a 20-foot-long travel trailer up a crazily winding dirt road full of hairpin turns and sheer drops simply because Google Maps had selected it as the most “efficient” route. There was no turning back, so they simply white-knuckled it up the mountain. You don’t want to be like our friends.
It’s tempting to assume technology will always be able to help you find the way. But those online maps can’t anticipate everything. That’s why, to ensure a safe holiday road trip, you should:
- Map your route. Sure, you can use technology to do it. But you also have to *look* at each major stage of the route your tech suggests, making sure it makes sense for you and your vehicle.
- Map an alternate route. What happens if an accident, inclement weather, or other unforeseeable circumstance makes your planned route a no-go? You need a backup route in your back pocket.
- Bring a paper roadmap as a backup. How charmingly antiquated, right? Trust us. When your phone runs out of batteries, Google Maps doesn’t know about the full lane closure and keeps giving you the same undrivable route over and over, or you have no cell service, you’ll thank us.
5. Make Sure You’re Fully Charged
This one applies both to your electronics AND your body. Having a fully charged smartphone is crucial for situations in which you need to call for help, report an accident, or find an alternate route on the fly. Having a fully charged brain and body — by getting sufficient rest the night before — is crucial for safe driving.
6. Prep a Kid Distraction Pack
If you’re traveling with kids, make sure you’ve planned ahead with enough stuff to keep them occupied and happy(ish) for the duration of the drive. Think snacks, water, books, toys, games you can play in the car, and videos. Pillows and blankets can encourage naps. And if it drives you crazy when they ask “when are we gonna stop again?”, schedule stops in advance, print out a map that shows each stop, and make it a game for the kids to follow along and track the mileage between stops.
7. Check the Updated Weather Forecast
You probably checked the weather forecast a few days ago. Have you checked whether it’s changed? In some climates, a forecast of sunny skies can quickly give way to sudden storms. So, the day before and the morning of your planned travel, take another look. That way, you’ll genuinely know what to expect. It may even inform which route you choose.
8. Get Your Zen On
Holiday driving is never frustration-free. It inevitably brings traffic jams and accidents, because there are just more people out driving on the days leading up to and after major holidays. It’s not realistic to expect otherwise.
So get your zen on before getting in the car. Accept that your journey is likely to suck in one way or another. Remember that the driver who cuts you off at the freeway exit is just trying to get to their holiday destination, too, and has probably also been stuck in traffic for hours, and probably isn’t a full-time jerk. Put on some mellow music or a good podcast that’ll help to keep your mind off the traffic. Basically, do your best to keep that road rage far at bay, as it’s not helpful to you or anyone. And anyway, did you know that many auto insurance policies list road rage incidents as an exemption? So you may not have coverage if an accident is caused by either your or the other party’s road rage.
9. Keep Safety Front of Mind All Trip Long
And finally, don’t forget about safety while you’re ON the trip:
- Wear seat belts. Make sure all passengers keep seat belts buckled at all times.
- Store valuables. When stopped for gas, meals, or an overnight stay, make sure valuables are stored out of sight or — better yet — brought inside, or locked in the glove compartment or truck. (That said, if personal belongings end up stolen, homeowners insurance may be able to help.)
- Remember stranger danger. If you’re traveling with kids, remind them that they shouldn’t talk to strangers if you’re not with them.
- Be mindful of slippery conditions. Be mindful of icy and snowy conditions, holding hands to prevent slips and falls.
- Be mindful of speed. Obey posted speed limits. Since holiday driving is always higher-risk, it pays to be careful.
- Don’t drink and drive. Obviously. Wait till you get to grandma’s to partake of that brandy-laced egg nog.
- Don’t text and drive. ‘Nuff said.