Road trips are a great way to explore this big beautiful country. You can set a schedule but still have the freedom to take a detour if you come across interesting sites. Before you embark on your adventure, though, do some planning to ensure a pleasant and safe trip.
Plan Your Route
Planning your route before you leave will make for a smoother trip. Take the following into account:
Gas stations. Most cars have approximately 2.5 gallons left in the tank when it hits the “empty” mark. However, it’s best not to push your luck and risk running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Know how far apart the gas stations are along your route.
Accommodation. Plan where you’ll stay and book hotels and campsites ahead of time.
Attractions and points of interest you’d like to visit.
Where to eat. Identify picnic areas, diners, and restaurants for a pit stop.
A change in the weather, if you’re crossing states. Being caught unprepared in a storm or blizzard can be dangerous.
Road construction or closures. This allows you to plan an alternative route.
Animal movement. For instance, during deer season, many accidents occur when cars collide with deer darting across the road.
Apps like Roadtrippers and Waze provide more information than Google Maps, such as places to eat, roadside attractions, traffic conditions, and speed traps. GasBuddy will help you find the cheapest fuel, and Toll Guru shows where toll roads are and how much you can expect to pay.
Get Your Vehicle Checked
Never head out on a long-distance trip without checking:
Tread and tire pressure of all tires, including the spare.
All fluids like oil, coolant, battery fluid, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, and power steering fluid.
That all lights are working, including signal, headlights, taillights, and brake lights.
That the wiper blades are in good condition.
If you’re a DIYer, we’ve put together some easy to follow videos on basic car maintenance tips. If you’re not, take your car to a professional mechanic for an inspection and tune-up.
Pack an Emergency Kit
It’s advisable to carry an emergency kit in your car at all times. If, however, you don’t have one, make sure you put one together before leaving on a long-distance trip. Stock your emergency kit with items such as a flashlight, blanket, gloves, first aid kit, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, jack and lug wrench, hazard triangle, flares, ice scraper, snacks like granola bars, and bottled water.
Get Enough Rest
Drowsy driving accounts for 9.5 percent of all car crashes, according to the AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety. The AAA conducted research using in-vehicle dashcam videos and was surprised to learn that the percentage of crashes involving drowsiness is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates indicate.
Ellen Edmonds, AAA Public Relations Manager, urges drivers to get plenty of rest before setting out on a road trip. “While on the road, schedule breaks every two hours or 100 miles to remain alert and avoid driving drowsy,” she suggested.
If you have another driver in the car, take turns driving to allow each other a chance to get some shut-eye. If you’ve been on the road for most of the day, don’t attempt to continue driving late into the night. Stay over at a hotel and get a good night’s sleep.
Pick the Right Time of Day to Drive
After a good night’s rest, Edmonds suggests leaving early in the morning or after the morning commute.
“The roads should be less crowded and you will have more time to get to your destination safely," she said. "Avoid traveling during the peak afternoon drive time, when roads are most likely to be packed with commuters."
Alternatively, you can rest in the day and drive at night. Driving at night has advantages and disadvantages. There’s less traffic, and you can use part of the daytime to explore the area. However, night driving comes with its own hazards like poor visibility, especially in bad weather. Remember, your brain is accustomed to sleeping at night, and the long, dark, quiet road may lull you into a drowsy state. If your night vision is poor, avoid driving at night.
Don’t Be a Distracted Driver
When driving long distances, it’s easy to become distracted by text messages, operating the GPS, eating and drinking, and reacting to squabbling kids in the back seat. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car crashes. Calls and text messages can wait until you stop for a break.
If you’re traveling to different states, be aware of their distracted driving laws. Some states allow hands-free devices, while others ban the use of cell phones altogether. Edmonds also cautions drivers about the dangers of in-car technologies.
“Hands-free and in-vehicle technology can mentally distract drivers, even if their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel," she said. "To reduce distractions, designate a passenger to serve as the official text messenger and navigator.”
A long-distance trip can be relaxing and fun, but it can also be fraught with dangers. For safer driving, consider taking a defensive driving course to learn how to be vigilant on the road and anticipate potential hazards.