By Jamie Ridenhour

For many of us, summer is the time for travel. Even with gas prices high, travel by car can be an economical alternative to air travel. Getting out on the road can also be less stressful and more enjoyable, with the scenery and attractions along the way sometimes being as memorable as the destination itself. A little preparation and some road safety tips can help to ensure a good trip.

First off, make sure your vehicle is as ready for a vacation as you are. Check your tire wear to make sure they are up to the task. A good way to measure is by sticking the top of a penny in the tread to see if it’s deeper than the top of Lincoln’s head. If not, the tire may need to be replaced. Check the depth in the center and near the edge of the tire. Uneven wear may indicate suspension or alignment problems. Also be sure to check tire pressure, including that of your spare tire.

Check all your fluids as well, including oil, coolant, brake, and windshield washer fluid. If oil, coolant, or brake fluid are low, it might be a good idea to consult a professional to make sure there isn’t an issue that needs to be addressed. Low coolant can mean a leak and low brake fluid can indicate worn brake pads.

Be sure to take care of any scheduled maintenance, keeping in mind the miles that you will be traveling before you are home again. If you are almost at the recommended oil change interval, for instance, get it changed before you leave so you don’t exceed the mileage while traveling. Try to get these items completed a week or two in advance so that any parts delays or other issues can be overcome.

Pack a few safety essentials along with those bathing suits and cargo shorts. A first aid kit, flashlight, jumper cables, small tool kit, gloves, duct tape and flares or a white flag are good recommendations. Also be sure to have a cell phone charger that works in your car and get in the habit of leaving your phone plugged in while driving so that the battery is topped off if you get stranded.

Let friends and relatives know where you are going and the route you plan to take. Sharing your location through Google or Apple is a great idea if you’re comfortable with that. Speaking of phones, take a moment to write down the phone numbers of a few close contacts on an index card and put it in your glove box. Contact lists on your phone are convenient, but useless if your phone is lost or damaged when out of town.

Once you are underway, follow all the normal rules of the road and stay relaxed. Traveling and trying to make good time can be stressful, but don’t let that lead to unsafe driving. Being too aggressive can not only lead to an accident, but also may provoke another driver and escalate into a road rage incident. If another driver is acting aggressively toward you, back off and let them go. You don’t know their state of mind or whether they may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Your safety is much more important than winning an argument with another driver.

Try to stick to four lane highways if traveling at night. Two lane roads tend to have sharper curves and hills that may impact visibility in the dark. Glare from oncoming headlights is also an issue. Be especially aware of your speed on two lane roads at night, where lower visibility and shorter reaction times are a major cause of crashes. Headlights typically illuminate the road 160 feet in front of the car, while it may take 190 feet to stop, even at just 40 MPH.

Plan your stops before they become emergencies, particularly if you are not sticking to the interstates. After dark, try to stop at well-lit and busy gas stations and rest stops. Fill your tank well before it’s empty to avoid having to make a riskier stop out of desperation.

Keep your attention on the road! Text messaging while driving is the most often discussed, but there are other distractions to avoid, as well. Eating, worrying about kids or pets in the car, and even getting too involved talking to passengers can reduce the attention paid to the road in front of you. Driving while tired can also dramatically reduce your reaction time, so be sure to take rests as necessary!

Speaking of rest, take some time to plan any overnight stops in advance. Doing so will allow you to do a little research and read reviews to help find some good, safe options. If you do decide to stop while enroute, try to contact the hotel in the afternoon to make a reservation. Hotels along busy travel routes will often fill up later in the evening.

Paying a little attention to safety can help ensure your summertime travel doesn’t turn into a disaster. Whether driving is an enjoyable part of the vacation or just a necessary means to get to your destination, keep these tips in mind and have a pleasant trip!