Tips for Holiday Travel

The highways are crowded each holiday season with drivers making their way to holiday feasts, shopping malls and family visits.  If you’re planning holiday travel with children, here are four tips to make the drive safe and enjoyable:

Buckle Up!

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends children sit in the back seat and be buckled-up properly.

  • Infants (under 20 lbs.) should ride in rear-facing convertible seats with harness straps at or below shoulder level.
  • Toddlers (20-40 lbs.) should ride in forward-facing convertible seats with harness straps at or above shoulders.
  • Young children (more than 40 lbs.) should ride in a forward-facing booster seat with the lap belt fitting across the upper thighs and shoulder belt snug across the chest.

Stay Awake!

This is one of the best ways to keep your family safe.  The National Sleep Foundation and the AAA Foundation recommend the following:

  • Get a good night’s sleep before your trip — 7-9 hours for adults and 8 ½-9 ½ hours for teens
  • Make sure a passenger is awake to talk to the driver.
  • Avoid medications that can impair performance.
  • Recognize signs of fatigue: lane drifting, hitting rumble strips, repeated yawning, tailgating, difficulty focusing.
  • Schedule stops every two hours or 100 miles.

Keep the Kids Busy.

If you’re planning a long drive, be prepared for frequent bathroom and food stops.  You can keep the kids busy by packing toys, books, portable DVD players and video games.

Keep your speed in mind.

There’s no reason to risk a run-in with the police. Keep in mind that in some jurisdictions even a common speeding ticket can result in a lengthy delay — or worse. Your out-of-state license could mean an immediate trip to traffic court with a bond payment required before you’ll be let go. Speeding isn’t the only sort of traffic citation cops write, so be doubly cautious. Some practices you might take for granted at home, like turning left from a one-way street to another one-way on a red light, can be illegal elsewhere. And again, your out-of-state plate makes you fresh meat for local ticket writers, including meter maids.

Get a free vehicle inspection.

You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If Car Care Clinic can identify potentially trip-interrupting issues, like loose tie rods or frayed drive belts, you can have them remedied before your departure. Just remember that you’re not obligated to have any service performed.  It’s much better to know before you leave town with family in tow.

Change the oil?  Buy new tires?

If you’re going on a cross-country trip and you’re 500 miles away from your next scheduled oil change, go ahead and get it done early. You’ll probably get a better deal at home than trying to have the service performed on the road.  Either choice is probably better than putting it off until you get return.  Similar advice on the tires: If they’re close to the end of their useful tread life, replace them.  Nothing messes up a road trip more than getting in an accident, and having good tires improves handling and braking performance more than any other factor.

Set your tire pressure.

Most people are driving around on under-inflated tires, sacrificing a mile (or in some conditions, more) per gallon in fuel economy. Inflate your tires to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer, and do it when the tires are cold. (Air pressure can increase by several pounds per square inch as the tires heat up.) Use a real tire pressure gauge, not the one built into the air hose.  Besides maximizing fuel economy, correctly inflated tires will improve handling and are more resistant to punctures.

Plan your route.

By whatever means necessary: GPS, AAA TripTik, MapqQuest, or good old-fashioned paper road atlas. But after you’ve picked out what appears to be the ideal route, spend a few more minutes researching summer road construction plans. There is a wealth of information available online, starting with each state’s own department of transportation Web pages. Real-time traffic information can plot out backups and is provided for free by Web-based mapping services like MapQuest. There are also applications of this sort available for mobile devices, including GPS units and smart phones. Regardless of which method you use, the information is there for the taking and can help prevent wasting time in traffic.

Clean out your vehicle.

The last thing you need when setting out on a multi-state drive is a funky-smelling, cluttered car, so go ahead and drop it off at one of Car Care Clinic’s car wash locations – or just clean it yourself. It will get smelly enough with the entire family traveling in close confines soon enough, but you might as well begin the trip on a fresh note. While you’re at it, take the ice scraper, the vintage road atlas, and the worthless socket set that’s missing the drive wrench out of the trunk. Leave those useless items in the garage, along with anything else you don’t really need, like that third row of minivan seats that serves no purpose other than 50 pounds of dead weight.

Slow down.

Not only will it take care of the fourth tip on this page, it’s also the best way to increase fuel economy, yet most drivers are reticent to sacrifice those precious few minutes they “save” by driving at or over the speed limit. I’m not going to turn this into a math-based lecture on lawbreaking, but in some cases slowing your rate of travel by 5-10 miles per hour can improve gas mileage by 5-10 percent. (Not to mention the potential safety implications of your reduced speed.) And if you’re really worried about the effect that slower rate of travel will have on your drive time, try improving your time management skills. Forego a half-hour of sleep or fill up the tank while the rest of the family packs its suitcases. Remember, there’s not a kid on earth who can’t hurry it up a bit at the rest area.