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Road Trip: Summer Driving Checklist and Safety Tips

Road trip safety tips
Safety tips for the road

If you’re taking a road trip this summer, you’re not alone. It’s the best way to fight cabin fever, and driving is more popular than flying these days.

According to AAA, an estimated 34.9 million people will hit U.S. roads for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That is an increase of 4.6% compared to 2021.

In another AAA survey on summer travel in general, 97% of vacationers plan to travel by car, up from 87% in the pre-pandemic years. On the other hand, AAA said only 52% of the population is ready to travel this year.

Therefore, if you choose to go on vacation, you can expect fewer people in some key destinations than before the pandemic hit in 2020.

But before you pack your bags, some vehicle preparation is in order. Check out our tips for a safe and enjoyable road trip.

Road Trip Checklist for Your Vehicle

Before you leave, you’ll want to prepare the vehicle for the distance ahead. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends drivers take these steps in the days leading up to a road trip:

1. Inspect and maintain your vehicle

Routine maintenance is a must, and keeping a record of your car’s maintenance schedule can help prevent costly breakdowns. Do a basic safety check of your vehicle’s tire pressures, wiper blades, fluid levels, lights, and air conditioning. You should not delay regularly scheduled services such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks and tire changes.

If you notice something isn’t right, check out our maintenance prices and service schedules page for your car to see if your car is due and what it might cost. It’s worth having it run through a dealer or auto repair shop if you’re not sure if a service is overdue.

RELATED STORIES: Car Care Guide: Everything You Need to Know

2. Make children’s safety your top concern

Road trip safety and travel checklistRoad trip safety and travel checklist

All children under the age of 13 must ride in the back seat. And be aware of the additional risks that come with hot weather. Heatstroke can occur when a child is left unattended in a parked vehicle.

To learn more about child seat safety, take a moment to understand the importance of: car seat safety

3. Store your vehicle with a safety kit

NHTSA recommends that drivers:

  • Mobile phone, charger and extra portable battery
  • first aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Torches and a white flag
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Jack (and ground mat) for changing a tire
  • Work gloves and a change of clothes
  • Essential repair tools and some duct tape (for temporarily fixing a hose leak)
  • Water and kitchen paper to clean up
  • Non-perishable food, drinking water and medicines
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Navigation options (phone or car navigation systems or printed maps)
  • Emergency blankets, towels and coats

4. Be prepared for emergency road trip plans

Plan your trip and route and check road conditions, weather and traffic to know what to expect. But also be prepared for any unforeseen circumstances. Remember that a cell phone is the most critical emergency item as it allows you to call for help when and where you need it.

5. Check for recalls

Use Kelley Blue Book’s VIN Recall Check Tool to ensure your vehicle is ready to go. If you find a recall, have it repaired as soon as possible.

Millions of Americans drive cars that may have safety memories. Dealers will always perform recall repairs free of charge. But their service places can become swamped for a rough travel season, so check as early as possible to see if your car needs free repairs.

6. Know your car

You are probably set on this checklist item if you drive your own car. If you rent a vehicle, pick it up a few hours before the road trip to familiarize yourself with it. Learn about the different types of driver assistance systems and safety features you can use.

Safety tips for the road

Once you’re on the road, car safety is all about paying attention to your surroundings and staying alert. Therefore, do not neglect these necessary safety measures:

Drive during off-peak hours

The late afternoon and early evening can be the worst times on the road. Avoid busy traffic times for a long weekend by leaving early Friday or Saturday mornings to be well on your way when the travel rush kicks in. For the trip home, leave early on Monday or give yourself an extra day and travel on Tuesday. That way everyone is out of the way.

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Limit night driving

According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 60% of adults drive when they are tired. It also found that 37%, or 103 million people, fell asleep at the wheel. Of these, 4% of adults caused an accident by falling asleep while driving.

If you feel fatigue coming on, stop and rest or switch drivers before endangering yourself or other passengers. But really, limit driving at night when it’s harder to see.

Let a passenger handle traffic apps and entertainment

Young woman with smartphone in the back seat

Young woman with smartphone in the back seatWe are big fans of Waze and Google Maps. These navigation aids can divert any driver around traffic, provide updates on travel time and even alert you by warning of hazards on the road. But for safety, remember to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. Instead of multitasking, assign a passenger for navigation and music or podcast selection.

Take regular breaks

Getting out of the car every now and then is good for everyone, especially the driver. The best way to avoid feeling fatigued behind the wheel is to change your environment regularly. And there’s no better way to do that than to stop and stretch your legs every few hours.

Share the driving

If your road trip involves multiple qualified drivers, have everyone take a turn to handle the stress of driving and relaxing in the passenger seat. It’s good for everyone’s nerves and sets the right tone for the weekend.

Share the way

Keep in mind that traffic can be heavier than you would expect, especially near attractions or holiday destinations. Good weather attracts many road users, including motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. Although they have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any motorist, they are more vulnerable. Their main drawback is that they do not have the protection that a car or truck offers. Leave more distance between you and a motorcycle – worth about 3 or 4 seconds.

Motorcycles are much lighter than other vehicles and can stop at shorter distances. Always state your intentions before changing lanes or merging into traffic. This courtesy allows other road users to anticipate your movements and find a safe lane position.

Strap in

Do we have to say this? Accidents remain one of the leading causes of death for Americans, according to the American Medical Association Journal. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the total mileage Americans drove declined sharply, the number of road deaths increased. Give yourself and your loved ones a fighting chance and abide by this crucial security law.

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Pack some masks

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, whether everyone in your car has been vaccinated or not, you may need masks in some stores, restaurants or attractions you visit. To make things easy for you, keep masks on hand for anyone traveling so that everyone can participate in every stop on a road trip.

Hot Car Awareness

Being on vacation can interrupt your routine and distract you from checking the back seat when you leave the vehicle. It’s hard to believe, but on average, the number of deaths from heatstroke in the United States kills 38 children every year. Pets are also at great risk when left in a car, even for a short period of time with cracked windows.

NHTSA reminds everyone to keep our little ones safe with these tips:

  • Lock your car when not in use to prevent small children from entering.
  • Never leave your child alone in the car, even if you think you will be gone for a short while.
  • Always “look before you close” so that no child or animal is left in the back seat.

Many vehicles can warn you with a rear seat reminder. When drivers turn off the car, it alerts you to check for occupants in the back. If you have an older car, aftermarket products also provide the same type of warning.

Gas prices and holiday weekend planningRoad Trip Checklist - Gasoline PricesRoad Trip Checklist - Gasoline Prices

Since millions drive 50 miles or more from home during Memorial Day weekend, prepare your stops along the way.

Last year, over Memorial Day weekend, travelers were able to refuel their tanks for an average of $2.98 a gallon at stations across the US. gas prices averaged as much as $4.60 per gallon. Prices could soar even higher by the time summer travelers hit the road.

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With many families driving large SUVs, trucks, and RVs on vacation, the cost of long car journeys can add up to the level of airfare.

Before you hit the road, check local station prices with your favorite gas app. For example, Gas Buddy helps you find stations with the cheapest gas prices along your route. If you drive an electric car, plan your route and look for charging points in advance.

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