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Thanksgiving Safety Tips: Before You Hit the Road

The Thanksgiving holidays—especially the Wednesday before Turkey Day and the Sunday after—are among the busiest travel days of the year. Plan ahead so traffic, weather, and stress don’t gobble away your thanksgiving.

It’s projected that about two-thirds of Americans will travel somewhere by car during the upcoming day of thanks. Of those, more than half will travel over a hundred miles, with 214 miles being the average for long-distance trips.

Cram that much traffic onto already overburdened highways such as the I-95 corridor on the East Coast, I-5 on the West Coast, and any number of interstates, highways, and byways in between and you get traffic jams, weary and distracted drivers, crowded rest areas, and plenty of long lines at restrooms and restaurants.

How to survive it all?

Make sure you get to the turkey on time!
Make sure you get to the turkey on time! Image by Tim Sackton.

Maintain your car, maintain your stamina, and maintain your passengers.

Maintain Your Car

Even if you successfully maintain your car by the book, it pays to spend a little extra time kicking the tires before undertaking a long holiday trip. Oftentimes, it’s the easiest car maintenance tasks which you forget to do that create significant headaches on holiday trips. So head off problems before they occur by checking these simple things.

  • Tires. There are two things to check here, tire pressure and tread wear. Tire pressure should be inspected with a tire pressure gauge, and tires should be inflated to your manufacturer’s specifications. As for tread wear, the penny test will do. Insert a penny, Lincoln Memorial down, into the treads of your car. So long as the top of the memorial is covered by the tread, you are safe to travel. Improperly inflated tires, or tires beyond their tread life, significantly reduce handling, especially in wet weather.
  • Fluids (Part I). Putting an eyeball on these five fluid levels before leaving home for the holidays can save you stress and repair bills. In no particular order, check: your oil level, the transmission fluid, your coolant level, the brake fluid, and your power-steering fluid. It takes ten minutes, tops.
  • Fluids (Part II). You never know what type of weather you will face during November. From dust to snowstorms and everything in between, Thanksgiving weather can be highly unpredictable. In any conditions, wiper fluid is your best friend. It keeps your field of vision clear, a plus at anytime of the day or night.
  • Lights. Make sure your signals, brake lights, and headlamps work. If not, have them replaced.
  • Gasoline. Before leaving the house, make sure the gauge shows as full. While in transit, re-fuel as your tank nears the half-full line. Nothing is more frustrating— and dangerous — than sitting on the side of the road out of gas, needing to walk to the local station.
  • Winterize Your Car. If you know that you might be facing snow or extremely cold conditions during your holiday drive, prepare your car for winter before you leave. In particular, check that you have sufficient antifreeze and are using the correct type for the climate you will be driving in.
  • Emergency Preparedness Kit. Ok, this isn’t technically car maintenance, but an emergency preparedness kit should be ready and available when you pull out of the driveway to begin your trip. Need to build one? The Red Cross provides a good list of items.

Maintain Your Stamina

Take regular breaks to refresh yourself! Image by Susanne Nilsson.
Take regular breaks to refresh yourself! Image by Susanne Nilsson.

Once in a driving groove, many feel compelled to keep going. Especially during holiday time, it makes sense to avoid this temptation and keep yourself fresh. Here are a few guidelines.

  • Rest before leaving. Everyone wants to get to the Thanksgiving table, but don’t abandon a good night’s rest in order to do so. Heavy traffic requires greater attention to driving and is more physically demanding. Be well rested before you start.
  • Plan appropriately. Little is more frustrating than sitting in traffic. Ease the tension by allowing yourself sufficient time to make your trip. With all those cars on the road, there are sure to be delays. Build that time into your schedule.
  • Take breaks. A good rule of thumb is stopping every 100 miles to stretch your legs, breathe some fresh air, and grab a refreshing drink. If that beverage includes caffeine, be careful not to over-caffeinate. That initial jolt to your system comes with a caffeine let-down that can prove detrimental down the road.
  • Switch drivers if possible. Are there are multiple drivers in the car? Then share the fun and allow them to take the wheel. The break will do you good, and possibly add to their enjoyment of the journey.

Maintain Your Passengers

Keep the smiles going throughout the journey! Image by Carissa Rogers.
Keep the smiles going throughout the journey! Image by Carissa Rogers.

Even for those who love to travel, long trips can become monotonous. Throw in traffic, and you can quickly find yourself with a surly crew on your hands. Help your passengers out with the following:

  • For children. Don’t forget to pack snacks and water — and plenty of them. Small snacks along the way will limit the number of times you have to fend off requests to stop and eat. A good collection of their favorite DVDs are also helpful to keep them occupied. If you don’t have an entertainment system in your car, you can find a portable one at any electronics store. Finally, for the younger set, crayons, coloring books, and puzzles remain solid go-to options.
  • For pets. Whether you’re traveling with Fido the dog or Fluffy the cat, be prepared. First and foremost, provide them a secure, safe travel space. Travel kennels are ideal, as a suddenly startled pet can become a major distraction. Also bring along plenty of food and water (along with travel bowls), a leash for walking at rest areas, and baggies for cleaning up after your pet at rest stops.
  • For adults. Big folks like snacks and drinks, too. Even a movie isn’t a bad idea. But mainly, be open to their needs. The occasional side-trip can strengthen bonds, give you a well-needed rest, and make for many years of happy memories.

And Don’t Forget …

… maps and GPS. Whether you’re taking a trip you’ve made a hundred times before, or are going someplace new, maps and GPS are a good idea. On treks you’re familiar with, a good GPS system can provide alternates routes should you hit unexpected traffic. Higher end models will keep you abreast of current road conditions ensuring your alternate route isn’t as frustrating as the one you just left. And on trips not well-known, maps and a GPS can ensure you stay on course.

Finally, brush up on how to handle your car in unexpected situations. A refresher course on defensive driving, handling your car in bad weather, and what to do in emergency situations will probably not be needed as your drive. But if it is, it’s there and fresh in your mind.

Holiday trips needn’t be a burden, and can be the source of many great memories. Prepare for the former: maintain, maintain, and maintain.

By Martin Davis

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