The Holidays are almost upon us and for most Americans that means the gleeful anticipation of Thanksgiving dinner and the federally sanctioned gluttony of Christmas. For a lot of us, it also means catching up with our friends and families. In some cases this means travelling hundreds or even thousands of miles and crossing state lines in order to enjoy turkey and cranberry sauce with our loved ones. Like any road trip, it’s important to make sure that you and your car are well prepared for the journey but the holiday season brings with it some important caveats that even seasoned roadsters must be constantly mindful of…
Driving in the holiday season
Most states endure cold and icy weather over the holiday season and icy roads can be unnerving even for veteran drivers. The key is to drive defensively even if you find yourself frustrated by slow moving traffic. It’s better to arrive late than never to arrive at all. Driving at higher speeds will massively increase your risk of losing control of your vehicle. Your speed shouldn’t top 45 mph on icy roads and you should stay under 10 mph in the event of black ice.
As treacherous as the roads can be, they’re not the only threat to you, your vehicle and your family. An unfortunate side effect of the holiday season is the sadly inevitable surge in drunk driving. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic safety Administration) estimates that there are 2-3 times more fatalities from drunk driving-related crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at any other time of year. Thus, it’s important to ensure that you’re always alert to hazards caused by other drivers meaning that driver fatigue must be kept at bay (more on that later).
Driving while distracted is another serious risk. When making arrangements with family and friends it can be all too tempting to surreptitiously send a text while at the wheel to let them know of your progress or delays but this brings with at best the risk of getting pulled over and at worst the risk of serious injury to yourself or your passengers.
As in most things, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Make sure that the car is well stocked with everything that you need and that your route is established. Today, many of us rely on GPS but you should still plan your route in advance of your journey and plan out times and locations to stop and rest regularly (ideally you should aim to stop and rest for 10-15 minutes for every 2 hours of driving).
Taking care of your car
Well in advance of setting off you should make sure that your vehicle is checked over by a professional. Be sure to test not only the driving apparatus but any onboard amenities. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere in need of a water pump for an RV. Make sure that your engine’s timing belt and auxiliary belt are relatively new. Your timing belt should be changed every four years, if it breaks your pistons could impact on the cylinder head completely totalling your engine. You should also ensure that your vehicle has appropriate winter tires as these will give you much needed traction on slippery roads and may just save your life if you should encounter black ice. If your brakes feel even remotely spongy they should be replaced, as responsive brakes are vitally important in wintery weather.
Taking care of you
As important as making sure that your car is good to go and in great shape on the road, it’s even more important to ensure that the same is true of yourself. It’s easy to become overconfident and blase when you’ve been on the road for several hours but not looking after yourself on the road can seriously compromise your judgment and your ability to perceive and effectively deal with hazards. Needless to say drinking while on the road is a definite no-no, but it’s also important not to become overly reliant on caffeine. Caffeine can give you a jolt of energy when you’re tired but it can also cause you to feel anxious causing you to drive slightly more erratically which will be exacerbated by slippery roads. Pounding latte after latte will also make you feel sluggish and unresponsive as you combat both withdrawal and dehydration between espresso shots. Be sure to pack a nutritious bag lunch before you leave and avoid salty and sugary convenience foods as they will cause your energy levels (and attention) to spike and dip.
By using a little common sense and some forward planning you can ensure a safe and enjoyable journey for yourself and your family this holiday season.