There’s hardly a more spontaneous, freeing way to travel than a road trip. If you’ve suddenly had a craving for a day trip or even a weekend jaunt, you might feel inspired to simply load up your vehicle and take off. But to stay safe and secure on the road, there are a few things you should consider before you put that key into the ignition and hit the gas pedal. Read these 10 road trip safety tips to better prepare yourself for your journey, no matter where you’re headed.
1. Make Sure Your Vehicle is Ready for the Road
A lot of factors play into road trip safety, but you can’t overlook your vehicle itself. For starters, make sure you’ve had a tune-up, are up to date on your oil change, and have checked the tire pressure on your car. You should check the condition of your windshield wipers, headlights and taillights, and your fluids as well.
If you’re planning a spontaneous trip and don’t have time to get your car in shape, consider renting a car or RV instead. You can feel confident you’re ready to hit the road and that you won’t have car trouble along the way.
2. Don’t Drive at Night (if You’re Not Comfortable)
According to the National Safety Council, compromised night vision and fatigue can make driving more difficult and increase the likelihood that you’re in an automobile accident. In fact, the majority of crashes take place between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., according to the NSF. As you plan your route, make sure to add in time to take breaks and get a good night’s rest. And if you have iffy night vision, plan to be done driving for the day once the sun sets.
3. Have Roadside Assistance
Insurance companies like AAA offer roadside assistance that ensure someone can come help you in case you have an issue on the road. From changing flat tires to helping when you’ve locked yourself out, this insurance gives you peace of mind that you have someone to call in the worst-case scenario. In most cases, the service applies whether or not you own the vehicle and even if you’re just a passenger. Even better, many museums and activities offer discounts for membership in AAA. And given its affordability, it’s a no-brainer.
4. Prepare for Extreme Weather
Bad weather can arise seemingly out of nowhere. Are you prepared for a downpour, for hail, for a snowstorm, or any other weather disturbance? If you’re not in the habit of checking weather reports on a daily basis, make sure to make this part of your travel plans. Make a plan B if the weather prevents you from following your itinerary to a tee — road trip safety should always come first. Make sure your heating and cooling systems work well if you expect extreme temperatures.
5. Let Someone Know Your Plans
This is especially important if your road trip is a solo one. Let a friend or family member know your plans — where you’re going, where you’re staying, who you’ll be meeting with, and when you’ll be back. You might also consider checking in along the way, even if it’s just a simple text or social media post letting your contacts know how your trip is going.
6. Leave a Spare Key in a Strategic Place
There’s nothing more frustrating than locking your keys in your car. If you’re far from home, it’s especially worrying. Plan to carry an extra car key in your purse or wallet so you’re prepared in the worst-case scenario. If you’re traveling with a companion, consider having him or her keep track of it for you.
7. Get Familiar with Your Route Ahead of Time
As much fun as it is to fly by the seat of your pants, you should take the time to sit down and carefully look at your route ahead of time. Do you plan to travel via highways or back roads? Is there construction that could slow things down or force you to use detours? Try to get a general sense of the direction you’re headed and what some of the major landmarks will be. Having a good sense of your path makes it easier to make quick decisions should certain roads be closed or other unexpected situations arise.
8. Minimize Distractions
Loud music, cell phone notifications, and other passengers can be huge distractions while you’re on the road. One of the most urgent parts of road trip safety is being diligent about minimizing any distractions that could affect your driving. Turn your phone off or mount it on your dashboard if you’re using it as a GPS tool. Keep music low and let your passengers know when you need to focus. Though driving may be something you do every day, even taking your eyes off the road for a few seconds can be dangerous.
9. Follow the Rules of the Road
This one is a no-brainer, but it bears reminding. The driving rules — including everything from speed limits to using your turn signals — are important for staying safe on the road. Make sure you pay attention to signage, especially near construction, where the speed limit may be reduced. Have some spare change handy for any toll roads, too.
10. Have Snacks and Water Handy
Staying fueled up for hours of driving is important. Keep water nearby to stay hydrated, and make sure you have snacks that can keep your energy levels high. Also consider whether there will be food available when you arrive at your destination — don’t assume restaurants will be open! If you have a good supply of snacks and water, you’ll be covered in the event you can’t get your hands on a good meal.