Five tips for safer road trips

Your bags are packed, your tank is full and you’re ready to hit the road. Get to your destination safely with driving tips for your big road trip.

Prep properly. Defensive driving starts before you pull out of the garage. Go through a pre-trip checklist prior to leaving, says James Solomon, program development and training director for the National Safety Council Defensive Driving Courses. Important tasks include locking the car doors, adjusting the mirrors and buckling your seat belt.

Stay alert. Your mind may be on your destination, but it’s important to stay “in the moment” when driving. “Whether you’re going two miles or one hundred miles, the most dangerous mile is the one ahead of you,” Solomon says. Ensure your focus is on the road by choosing not to drive when you’re drowsy, emotional or impaired.

Be proactive. “Look down the road, and try to spot the hazards,” Solomon says. Does a driver need to change lanes? Attempt to move over. Is it starting to rain? Ease up your speed. Does the driver ahead keep slamming on the brakes? Maintain at least a three- to four-second gap between your two vehicles.

Avoid distractions. Besides your cell phone, there’s another gadget guilty of taking eyes off the road: a GPS. “Program the GPS before you leave the driveway,” Solomon says. If your GPS takes you off track, Solomon suggests pulling over before adjusting the GPS or reading a map.

Slow down. Follow the speed limit, and reduce your speed according to road conditions. This safety precaution also gives passengers time to enjoy the scenery. And if you enjoy looking out the window, consider driving in shifts. “Driving is a full-time job,” Solomon says. “Everybody else gets to look; the driver has to drive.”

Remember: Even the safest drivers can get drowsy. Plan to break up your trip by rotating drivers periodically. That way, the person behind the wheel is fresh and alert, and the one in the passenger seat can help the driver stay focused.

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