With the warmer months of summer finally here, many drivers find themselves itching to hit the open road, says Peter Vitale. Unfortunately, summer is also the time of year that tends to see the most car accidents across the country. This is likely due to the fact that summer sees harsh weather (including heavy downpours that can create unsafe driving conditions) as well as more road construction. Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t ways to enjoy summer road trips safely and confidently. For those who are planning summer road trips, Michigan-based auto insurance specialist Peter Vitale offers some important safety precautions to keep in mind.
Start With a Safe Car
One of the most important things to do before hitting the road this summer is to make sure the vehicle being used to get from point A to point B will be safe. Taking the time to give a car a thorough inspection before taking it on a long road trip is always a good idea. This can include bringing it into a trusted local mechanic for an oil change, which often also includes a multi-point inspection. Specifically, this inspection should check for things such as:
- tire pressure
- coolant levels
- brake pad wear
- belts and hoses
- turn signal/brake lights
- windshield wiper blades
- windshield wiper fluids
Drivers and their passengers can enjoy some extra peace of mind while leaving on a summer road trip when they know they’re getting into a safe car. From there, the driver will be able to rely on the car’s safe operation to avoid accidents, breakdowns, and other safety risks.
Research and Study Routes
Another potential cause of unsafe driving conditions is a lack of overall awareness on the road. Sometimes, confusion can ensue when a driver is not familiar with the route that he or she is driving. This can make drivers more prone to making mistakes that could lead to an accident or other unsafe situation.
For this reason, those planning on taking a summer road trip should take the time to research and plan their routes ahead of time. This doesn’t have to mean studying and knowing every single turn from memory, but drivers can enjoy a much greater sense of confidence behind the wheel when they at least have a general idea of where they’re going. Plus, free route-planning resources like Google Maps make it easier than ever to preview routes and even explore alternative routes prior to leaving on a trip.
Check the Weather
Just as being aware of one’s route before traveling is important, so is keeping an eye on the weather forecast. Dynamic weather can quickly create unsafe situations on the road, especially during the summer months when flash flooding, severe thunderstorms, and even tornado warnings can be imminent.
In general, it’s best to start checking weather forecasts a few days before leaving on a trip. From there, reviewing the forecast daily up until the morning of the trip is best so that any changes to one’s travel schedule can be made as needed.
Even while on the road, it’s a good idea to occasionally tune in to a local news radio station for weather updates. This way, if a weather threat does approach, it will be possible to pull off the road and wait out the storm somewhere safe until it passes. It’s always better to lose a little bit of travel time than it is to be stuck in a potentially dangerous weather situation on the road.
Stay Vigilant About Fuel
Another potential safety threat to be aware of before leaving on a summer road trip is that of low fuel. Running out of fuel is something that most drivers don’t believe would ever happen to them. And with most cars these days equipped with “low fuel” warning lights, it seems like avoiding an empty tank should be easy enough.
The trouble with summer road trips, however, is that it’s easy to end up low on fuel in an unfamiliar area. A lot of times, drivers will see that they’re getting low on fuel but will assume that they’ll come across a fuel stop within the next few miles. When driving through remote areas, however, it could be 50 miles or more before the next fuel stop. This is exactly how otherwise cautious drivers end up stranded on the side of the road with an empty fuel tank.
Previewing one’s route and making note of key fuel stops along the way is a great way to avoid this, as is never letting the car’s fuel gauge fall below a quarter tank in an unfamiliar area.
Avoid Distracted Driving
Distracted driving remains one of the largest safety risks among motorists in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that about 7% of all fatal car crashes in 2019 were related to distracted driving.
So, what constitutes distracted driving? While texting and driving is one of the first things that come to mind for most people, the reality is that any activity that steals a driver’s attention away from the road can be considered distracted driving. This can include:
- eating or drinking behind the wheel
- loud or otherwise distracting passengers
- loud music
- trying to multitask while driving (such as applying makeup behind the wheel)
By being aware of the most common sources of distracted driving, motorists can make more responsible decisions to avoid this dangerous activity themselves. By focusing one’s attention on the road at all times, drivers are less likely to get into accidents or find themselves in other unsafe situations.
Know When to Take Breaks
Right up there with distracted driving, drowsy driving can also be very dangerous and is especially common on summer road trips, when motorists are often trying to cover long distances in a very short period of time to get to their destinations. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, driving while drowsy can be very similar to driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Unfortunately, being tired behind the wheel can create all kinds of unsafe conditions. For example, driving while drowsy can significantly decrease a person’s reaction time, making it more difficult for them to safely react and adapt to changing conditions on the road. This, in turn, can make them more likely to get into an accident.
To avoid drowsy driving, it’s always a good idea to plan breaks and stops for rest, especially on longer road trips. This may even include stopping at a hotel overnight or, at the very least, sleeping in a rest stop parking lot if a driver becomes too tired to continue safely. Likewise, tackling road trips with friends who can take turns behind the wheel is a great way to cover more distance without anybody having to sacrifice sleep.
Keep Little Ones Safe
Lots of people travel with their kids during the summer months. Water parks, amusement parks, beaches, and landmarks are all popular family-friendly summer destinations. This is a great time to make sure that all car seats that will be carrying little ones are properly installed and suited for each child’s size and age.
Unfortunately, a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that up to 59% of car seats in the United States are incorrectly installed. Peter Vitale recommends checking local police stations, or municipal buildings, for assistance with car seat installation. As many towns provide these services for residents, they are excellent sources of assistance.
Before embarking on a summer road trip, then, it’s never a bad idea to review car seat installation guidelines found in the specific car seat manual. There are also important guidelines regarding the ages, heights, and weights at which different types of car seats should be used for children. By knowing that children are buckled up and secured properly, parents can enjoy extra peace of mind behind the wheel.
Revisit Insurance Coverage
Prior to leaving on a summer road trip is also a great time to check car insurance coverage. Drivers should not only make sure that their policies are current/active, but that they have enough coverage to keep them protected no matter what happens. This should include not just appropriate amounts of collision coverage, but liability protection, comprehensive coverage, and possibly even roadside assistance coverage as well.
As Michigan-based auto insurance expert Peter Vitale explains, there are many different insurance types out there. Being aware of these different coverage types, Peter Vitale says, and knowing how to choose the right coverage, can keep drivers properly protected behind the wheel.
Peter Vitale on the Bottom Line
There’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to staying safe on the road this summer. From making sure one’s car is in good shape to avoid distractions and everything in between, a little bit of caution and preparation goes a long way. Meanwhile, having the right auto insurance coverage can also provide additional protection in the event of a collision or other incident. For more information on staying safe while driving at different times of the year, be sure to check out other articles that cover safe-driving trips from Michigan-based insurance specialist Peter Vitale.