How to stay safe on a summer road trip

Take the right precautions before you hit the road with your family this summer.

If you're like most American families, you spend more time on the roads in the summer months than any other time of year. Between more time off for vacations and better weather conditions for clear driving and outdoor activities, it's not hard to see why our roadways would become more crowded.

Spending more time driving can increase your risks of experiencing problems on the road, however. Car trouble, accidents and traffic can all make for difficult, or dangerous, transportation.

But that doesn't mean you need to avoid driving or taking a long family road trip! By planning ahead and taking a few key safety precautions, you can enjoy the freedom of the open road without putting your loved ones at greater risks. 

Inspect your car before you go
The first thing you should do before planning a long drive or road trip is to make sure your car is in top shape. Reduce the risk that something breaks and leaves you stranded on the side of the road, or worse, causes you to lose control of a moving vehicle. Parents magazine reported that you should look at your tire pressure, fluid levels, lights, belts, windshield wipers and oil for standard maintenance

"Go online to check if there have been any recent recalls issued for your vehicle."

checks. However, if you've noticed that your car feels or sounds differently lately, take it in for a professional inspection before you go. What may start as a small problem can quickly escalate to a bigger, more expensive issue if you continue to drive on it. 

You should also go online to check if there have been any recent recalls issued for your vehicle. If there's a notice that something's wrong, take it in for replacement before you go. 

If you're in the market for any upgrades to your vehicle, consider getting Bluetooth capabilities installed. This will allow you to change your radio, take calls or set up your GPS hands-free so that you reduce distractions while you're driving. 

Pack a road safety kit
Even if you confirm that your vehicle is in good shape before you go, you could still face the risk of a maintenance problem on the road, such as running over debris and tearing a tire. Traffic and weather can cause problems as well, potentially delaying your trip before you reach your destination. If you end up trapped in a remote area, you want to be prepared to wait it out comfortably.

Before you leave for your trip, put together a "kit" of vehicle supplies that can help you fix the most common problems you face on the road, or that can at least keep your family secure while you wait for a tow truck. Safe Motorist suggested that basic kits include:

  • Jumper cables
  • First aid kit
  • Spare tire
  • Car jack
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Weather radio
  • Extra phone chargers
  • Road flares 
  • Reflectors
  • Tool kit or multitool
  • Updated maps, in case you lose signal on your GPS
  • Waterproof matches
  • Potable water
  • Nonperishable foods
  • Pillows and blankets
  • Medicine

Remember that if you do need to pull over to address an issue, move as far from the road as you can. Draw attention to your vehicle with your flashers, flares or reflectors and try not to spend too much time outside of your car standing too close to the road. 

Drive with caution
It can be easy to get complacent with your driving habits, but when you are, you're more vulnerable to accidents on the road. The American Red Cross recommended that drivers only get behind the wheel when they're alert and well rested. Avoid distractions like using you phone, eating or turning around to talk to backseat passengers. Even if you feel like you're in a rush to get to your destination, stick to speed limits and other road laws. On that note, you should never weave through traffic at high speeds, tailgate or illegally pass other vehicles. 

"Everyone in your car should always have their seatbelt on."

Everyone in your car should always have their seatbelt on. Kids under 13 should staying the backseat, and always install a car seat according to the manufacturer instructions. Take frequent breaks to get out of the car to stretch and help you refocus. Take turns driving with your spouse so that you can both get some rest from time to time. 

Of course, being as safe as you can be won't always protect you from other, reckless drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advised that you should always be aware of your surroundings. Practice defensive driving habits so you can react quickly in a dangerous situation. 

Use extreme caution when driving through road work areas, and always obey all traffic signs. Be especially aware in more residential areas where you may encounter pedestrians. Stop at all crosswalks, as pedestrians have the right of way. At traffic lights, pay special attention to the walk signs as well – if you're turning left on a green light, for example, pedestrians crossing at that interaction may still have the right of way. 

Going on a road trip as a family is a great way to spend your summer and make lasting memories. Though being on the road can carry some risks, you can mitigate them by being cautious. Just be sure to always stay alert and focused while you're driving, keep your car in good shape and have emergency supplies on hand just in case.