Being prepared for your holiday drive

  • Published
  • By Masao Doi
  • Air Force Safety Center
It's the holidays and you decide to take some well-deserved time off to visit family and friends. Your children haven't seen their grandparents in a while and everyone is looking forward to spending the holidays together.

You'll most likely drive to get there. According to the American Automobile Association, more than nine out of 10 holiday travelers will take to the roads. Including all forms of transportation, a typical holiday traveler averages 1,052 miles roundtrip. For drivers, the miles equate to several hours on the road for at least one or two days, increasing your chances of a mishap. There are many steps you can take to help a safe arrival.

First, it's important to conduct needed maintenance and winterize your car before you begin your trip. Despite the best forecasts, weather often changes unexpectedly. Snow, wind and ice can lead to treacherous road conditions. The National Safety Council recommends taking steps to winterize your vehicle, including checking your car's battery and antifreeze, as well as tires for inflation, wear and tread depth. Also, read your owner's manual for regular tune-ups. Prepare an emergency kit to include lifesaving items such as tools, a spare tire, shovel, first aid, jumper cables and non-perishable food.

Once you've checked out your car, remember to get enough sleep the night before your trip. Getting more sleep reduces your risk of a mishap considerably. Sleeping less than five hours increases the risk four or five times more than sleeping eight hours or more. Plan your trip and take the time to get there.

When you're on the road, remember to watch for the warning signs of fatigue. It's not uncommon to feel tired or even fall asleep behind the wheel. The National Sleep Foundation found 60 percent of adult drivers have driven while feeling drowsy, while more than one-third have fallen asleep at the wheel. Fatigue slows reaction times, and the result can be fatal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates there are 56,000 mishaps related to fatigued driving annually, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. Demographics more likely to drive while drowsy include men between 18-29 years of age and adults with children.

If you're feeling drowsy, pull off the road and get some rest or change drivers. Take frequent breaks and drink lots of water. Refrain from alcohol, large meals and medications that can make you feel tired. Note that the most dangerous times for driving fatigue are from late night to pre-dawn hours and between 2-4 p.m. Remember that caffeine is not a substitute for getting some needed rest.

Additionally, don't talk on your cell phone without a hands-free device. Better yet, pull off to the side or let someone else drive. To further limit distractions while driving, if you want to appreciate the beautiful scenery, let someone else do it for you. Your family in the car will appreciate it.

Most of all, take your time getting to wherever you want to go. Control your speed and drive appropriately for the road conditions. I'm sure your friends and family would rather see you taking a little longer to arrive alive than not arriving at all.