Safe Summer Driving From A to Z

(Traffic Safety Magazine May/June 2002)

Highway safety professionals know summer is prime time for work zones, traffic congestion and over- heated engines. But most Americans aren't thinking of these hazards as they pack the family vehicle for a long-anticipated vacation.  This handy A-to-Z guide reminds you what to remind them.

Alcohol -Drinking and driving don't mix. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol- related crash at some point.

Blind Spot - It's crucial not to get into any driver's blind spot, especially a truck driver's. Don't hang out in what's called the "no zone" - the area where a truck or bus driver can't see your vehicle. Either pass the vehicle or stay well behind it.

Collision warning system - An estimated 70 percent of back-up crashes can be prevented with the use of a collision warning system, according to NHTSA. This feature provides drivers with a visual and audible warning that another vehicle is within 12 feet.

Defensive driving -This concept is the hallmark of safe driving, whether you're on a summer excursion or just taking a short jaunt to the grocery store. Always drive defensively: Expect the unexpected.

Eye exam - Is your vision still 20/20? Probably not. According to the American Optometric Association, you need an annual eye exam. And have your hearing checked so you can hear emergency vehicles.

First aid kit -A travel first aid kit can offer up a quick bandage, tweezers and some gauze tape. Consider tossing in some disposable gloves and a face mask should you come upon a person in need of emergency help.

Graduated licensing - Thinking of letting your teenager help with the driving on your summer road trip? Make sure she's had plenty of supervised experience behind the wheel, with you by her side. So far, 34 states have enacted some form of graduated licensing law, whereby teens are "phased into" their driving privileges. For more information, visit

Hydroplaning - Antilock brakes will help prevent a skid, but they're not foolproof Slow down in wet weather.

Impaired -This catch-all includes driving while drowsy, driving while intoxicated, or driving under the influence of another drug. "It's estimated that millions of crashes have resulted because of impaired and distracted drivers," said Jim Solomon, Defensive Driving Course training manager for the National Safety Council.

JUMP - Start your battery safely by following the rules in your owner's manual, and learn how to do other basic repairs, such as changing a flat tire.

Kids - 12 and younger should ride in the back seat of your vehicle in age-appropriate restraints.

Lights - Daytime running lights are becoming standard equipment on new cars and have been shown to increase safety, according to NHTSA. During daylight, your car's headlights are on at 60 percent of their low-beam brightness. Of course, as the sun sets, you'll need to turn them fully on.

Maps - Don't leave home without them. Know where you're going so you don't have to find a highway and drive at the same time. Join a motor club, and it'll provide free maps and even route your destination for you.

NHTSA -This agency's aim is to reduce incidence of death and injury from motor-vehicle crashes. It offers an auto safety hotline, child safety seat information, and rollover ratings. Check out or call (888) DASH-2-DOT.

Occupant restraint - Wear your seat belt at all times. And if you travel with kids, be sure they're buckled in child safety restraints appropriate for their age and size. The National Safety Council has joined forces with DaimlerChrysler, NHTSA, and others to form a nationwide toll-free number to help parents find child safety seat inspection stations. Call (866) SEAT-CHECK or visit And two more tips to remember: Be sure you sit 10 to 12 inches from an air bag, and put all kids 12 and younger in the back seat.

Phones - A cell phone can be a life saver. But it also can cause a collision. So pull off the road when you need to dial Mom, Dad or 911.

Quiet - Loads of distractions can surface when you're tooling down the highway. If you're traveling with kids, keep them occupied with age-appropriate toys and activities.

Rest Stops - These range from stops with vending machines and picnic tables to state-of-the-art facilities with inexpensive restaurants. Their purpose? To invite you to stop and take a break. Ask for a map telling you where the next rest stop is on your route.

R Is for Road Rage Summer season is construction season, and road rage might be on the upswing. To keep your emotions- in check any time of the year, follow these tips courtesy of John Larson, M.D., author of Steering Clear of Highway Madness: Loosen up. Getting yourself worked up while driving won't get you there any faster. Recharge. Consider your trip a timeout from the rat race and an opportunity to recharge. Make your journey heavenly. Pleasurable travel depends on the mood inside your car. "A new attitude on the road will increase your ability to operate your vehicle safely and skillfully," Larson said.

Smart car -The smart car is getting smarter all the time. When Susan Frank's vehicle hit a row of trees in a median in Mississippi, her deployed air bags triggered OnStar, which links cellular and satellite technologies. The system automatically told OnStar's communications center of the crash and location. Current and future innovations include smart air bags, collision avoidance systems, drowsy driver detection devices, and intelligent highways that could be as smart as the vehicles on them. Stay tuned!

Three-second rule - This magic number helps you avoid tailgating. Choose a stationary object along the road. When the vehicle ahead of you passes that object, count one-thousand and one, one-thousand and two, one-thousand and three. You shouldn't pass that object before you get to three.

Use your owner's manual - Don't let it collect dust in your glove compartment. This is where you'll find gasoline requirements, how often to change your oil, child safety seat guidelines, tire pressure, and lots of other useful tips. "Neglect is the most common mistake owners make when caring for their cars" said Jim Haase, owner of Cumberland Automotive in Des Plaines, Ill.

Vehicle safety kit -What's in your trunk? Be sure a safety kit includes jumper cables, reflective triangles, a blanket, nonperishable food, flashlight, and other various goodies. Michigan native Julie McIlvermy carries a road- side kit in her car. "Even though I haven't used many of the items, it provides peace of mind:' she said. And it makes a good companion to your first aid kit.

Work Zones - "Give 'Em a Brake" and "Road Safe" are two national programs that deter drivers from traveling too fast around road construction crews. In 2000, 1,093 people died in highway construction zone fatalities, according to NHTSA. That includes motorists, non-motorists and workers. "Unfortunately, many motorists actually speed up when traveling through construction zones so they're not stopped by the construction" the National Safety Council's Solomon said. So please "Give 'a brake" and slow down when you enter "the zone."

XM Satellite Radio - and Sirius Radio both have licenses to provide satellite-to-car radio broadcasting. For a fee, you can subscribe to more than 100 radio stations that offer coast-to-coast reception with digital signals. It's currently available in some GM cars - an innovation that will make checking weather conditions easier when traveling cross-country.

Yellow road signs - mean caution, warning or yield. Heed them; they're there to guide you to safety.

ZZZZZ - Don't fall asleep at the wheel. According to a recent NHTSA report, most crashes happen when people are alone, and occur during the late-night/early-morning hours. And police have cited 56,000 crashes annually in which driver drowsiness/fatigue is to blame. To avoid drowsy driving, take a buddy along on long road trips, and schedule regular breaks every two hours or 100 miles. And of course, get a good night's sleep before any road trip.

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