Taking a road trip seems like an obvious choice in terms of the safest way to travel during the coronavirus pandemic. But spending hours—or days—driving can be mentally taxing. And accidents on the road are a very real concern. In fact, nearly 2 million people are injured in auto accidents each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving caused 91,000 accidents in 2017 and nodding off while driving can happen more easily than you may think when you’re on the road for long periods of time.
That’s why we need to find strategies to stay alert and safe when driving. Follow these safety tips to arrive safely at your destination. Here’s what you should know.
1. Plan your itinerary
Mapping out the specifics of your road trip is the best way to eliminate stress and even avoid hazards when driving. Too many people simply plug their destination into a Navigation System without any idea about when and where they want to make pit stops. There’s nothing wrong with using GPS to give you an idea. The best way to prepare is by figuring out how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. Then, look for recreation areas, rest rooms, and fuel stops along the way. Even though planning ahead is a great idea, you shouldn’t feel unnecessarily restricted by your itinerary. It doesn’t mean that you’re deadlocked into that.
2. Eat, sleep, and hydrate well
It’s important to be well-rested before you get behind the wheel. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night (research shows that people feel their best after getting that much rest).
Eat a good meal before starting your drive. Some prefer a protein-heavy breakfast to help feel more satisfied and alert. Keeping prepared food in a cooler is particularly helpful for people who don’t want to stop and eat at restaurants. Of course, you’ll want to find somewhere safe to enjoy your snacks and meals—like a rest area or truck stop—since eating while driving is a distraction.
Drink plenty of water throughout the trip, which yes, means more bathroom breaks. But stopping more often is better than experiencing headaches or dizziness associated with dehydration which can happen when you skimp on water.
3. Stop often
You might try to drive to your destination with minimal pit stops. Resist the temptation. It’s important to stop every two to three hours to stretch, use the bathroom, and do a walkabout. I try to stop about every 100-120 miles. Moving and getting my circulation going helps me stay alert during long drives. And of course, stop if you’re tired. Avoid pulling over onto the shoulder and look for a rest area or off ramp instead.
4. Scan your surroundings
Constantly check your surroundings to know what is ahead. Scanning your surroundings (keeping your eyes moving) includes keeping a safe distance around your vehicle. To avoid last minute moves, scan the road 10–15 seconds ahead of your vehicle so you can see hazards early. When another driver makes a mistake, you need time to react. Give yourself this time by keeping a “space cushion” on all sides of your vehicle. This space cushion will give you room to brake or maneuver if you need the space. While keeping an eye on the road up ahead, look for animals on the side of the road, monitor your gauges, and scan the mirrors.
5. Get to know road signs
Understanding road signage is one of the best ways to boost your confidence about highway driving. If you train your eye to read the signs and know what the signs mean, then you can drive down the roads confidently. For example, construction signs have an orange background and will always trump other signage. Yellow signs are cautionary. You can check out the U.S. Department of Transportation for more information about road symbols and signs.
6. Make your vehicle road-trip-ready
Taking the time for preventative maintenance will pay big dividends down the road. Recreational vehicles require all the standard maintenance of your car plus a whole lot more (if you had your RV for more than a few months then you may have learned this the hard way). After all, an RV is more than just a vehicle. It is a home on wheels with a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom. Inflate tires to recommended specifications and check them often. Inspect for any imperfections before travel.
7. Make room for trucks
You may have felt that twinge in your gut when driving near or past large semi trucks and rightfully so, because it can be scary—those trucks are huuuuuge! It’s important to allow plenty of following room when driving behind these massive machines. Give them space. Large trucks need extra room to slow down and come to a complete stop as well as to make a turn. Don’t ride next to semis—they can’t see you. Their blind spots are humongous. You need to leave enough space so that you can see both of the truck’s side mirrors. And while you may be anxious to get in front of a slow-moving vehicle, never cut in front of large trucks. A truck traveling at highway speeds in regular conditions needs a distance of roughly two football fields to stop safely
Speed was high
Weather was hot
Tires were thin
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