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Safety Tips for Cross-Country Road Trips


Cross-country road trips are becoming increasingly popular. According to statistics on tourism in America, cross-country road trips make up 22% of all trips. Additionally, the cost of airline fees has risen, like luggage and in-flight meals, which makes driving to your destination more alluring than before. Besides vacationing, many people opt to drive cross-country for other purposes, including:

  • Moving
  • Business trips
  • Self-discovery
  • Nostalgia
  • Sight-seeing
  • Bonding experiences

While cross-country driving can be seen as an adventure, it’s important to consider your safety during these trips. Whether you are traveling alone, with a buddy, or this is your 100th road trip, take into account the safety tips below to ensure that you have a fun and successful cross-country road trip.

Avoid Driving When You’re Tired

There can be serious consequences for driving tired. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, more than one-third of drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel. Additionally, drowsy driving is similar to driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol — driving for more than 20 hours without sleep is the same as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. It can be hard to identify when you are fatigued. Typically, the signs are as follows:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Moodiness

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you should stop driving as soon as possible. To avoid drowsy driving, assess the total miles you’ll be traveling, and create a driving schedule. For instance, if you are traveling with someone and it takes 24 hours to get to your destination, you might schedule four-hour shifts for drivers.

If you are traveling solo, then your driving schedule might look a bit different. Before heading out on your road trip, determine how many hours you feel comfortable driving. Then, plan your schedule around destinations so you always have a place to relax after you finish driving. For example, if you plan to drive eight hours per day, make sure there is a hotel or campsite waiting for you at the end of your drive.

Create a Roadside Emergency Kit

A roadside emergency kit can help decrease stress if your car breaks down or you experience other car troubles on your road trip. Your kit should include:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flares or triangle reflectors
  • Motor oil
  • Coolant
  • First-aid kit
  • Blanket or space blanket
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Tool kit with screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench, pocket knife
  • A can of tire inflator
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Paper towels
  • Spray bottle with washer fluid
  • Ice scraper
  • Pen and paper
  • Granola or energy bars
  • Bottled water

While some of these items may seem excessive, you never know what you might encounter on a cross-country road trip, and it’s better to be prepared. After assembling your emergency kit, be sure to keep it somewhere handy, like the trunk of your car.

Notify Friends and Family

Even in the age of cellphones, it’s crucial to let either friends or family know where you’re going to be when you are on your road trip. This can be in the form of an in-depth itinerary or a quick message telling them when you are leaving and when you’ll be back.

An itinerary can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. For example, you can include the names of the hotels you are staying at, the hours you’ll be driving, and other possible destinations for peace of mind. If creating and distributing an itinerary seems too big a task, consider sending a simple text message each morning and night to let people know you are safe.

Prepare Your Vehicle Properly

Depending on what you plan to do during your road trip, your luggage could consist of large items like tents, outdoor grills, furniture, and off-road and recreational vehicles. You can either tow your items behind you or they can be strategically placed on top or in the car.

If they are sitting on top of the car or in the bed of a truck, they should be tied down so they won’t fall off when you travel at high speeds. Ratchet straps are especially handy for long-distance trips, as you can tighten or loosen them as you please.

If you are towing off- or on-road vehicles, like dirt bikes, motorcycles, snowmobiles, or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), consider investing in a loading ramp to easily transport them. ATV ramps and snowmobile ramps can travel conveniently because they fold up when not in use. Additionally, a powersport carrier can help give you peace of mind as you are driving and it allows the vehicle to sit on the back of your rig so it won’t take up valuable space in the trunk or truck bed. Of course, depending on your vehicle, you may want to review whether a hitch or a trailer is the best option for transporting your powersport vehicles. Whatever mode you choose, ratchet straps are an essential item for securing your cargo, and it never hurts to carry some back-ups just in case.

Inspect Your Vehicle Beforehand

Before hitting the road, you should inspect your vehicle so there are no surprises awaiting you. There are a few steps to take to make sure your vehicle is in top shape for your cross-country road trip:

  • Change the oil and the filter
  • Clean the inside of the car
  • Change the air filter
  • Check the spark plugs
  • Make sure you have tools to change a tire
  • Fill the tires with air
  • Get a spare key and keep it in the glove box
  • Replace worn brake pads
  • Fill low fluids like brake fluid, coolant, transmission, and windshield wiper fluid

Research Road Conditions

On your road trip, you will experience an array of road conditions, including mountain passes, coastal roads, highways, freeways, and back roads. Each of these conditions is vastly different from the other, and it’s important to know how to drive on each one.

Driving through mountains and hills may mean a decrease in temperature, which could cause rain or snow. Additionally, driving up steep grades can require more fuel than necessary on level ground. When driving on these types of roads, remember to:

  • Fill up before you ascend
  • Use brakes cautiously
  • Downshift before descending
  • Watch the temperature gauge for your engine
  • Stay alert!

Coastal roads can be just as tricky to navigate as mountain roads. While they are typically flat, these roads can be extremely windy with constant sharp turns. To drive safely on coastal roads, be sure to take corners slow and avoid speeding. Additionally, keep an eye on how much gas you have, as there are fewer gas stations along coastal roads.

When driving on freeways, highways, and back roads, you must be aware of speed limits at all times. Driving above or below the speed limit can be dangerous and cause an accident, especially when merging on or off freeways and highways. To prepare for all driving conditions, be sure to map out your route before you take off.

Understand Vehicle Clearance

While driving, you may come across bridges, gas stations, walkways, or other structures that display their height for certain vehicles. These signs tell the drivers of tall vehicles whether they can drive underneath the structure without hitting it. Typically these vehicle clearance signs are for long-haul truckers, however, drivers that are hauling RVs or off-road vehicles should also be aware of their height limit. If a driver is too tall to go under a bridge, they will have to either turn around or risk damaging their vehicle and causing an accident.

ground clearance auto
Know your ground clearance to avoid unneccessary damage

You’ll also want to know the ground clearance of your vehicle. This clearance is defined as the minimum distance between the lowest part of the vehicle and the ground. Low ground clearance means you’ll be scratching the underside of your car on bumpy roads.

Bring Navigation Backups

In case you drive through an area with no cellphone service, it’s a good idea to bring navigation backups. It’s important to note that GPS on a smartphone does not need data to work. Your phone can connect to GPS signals at any time if you have the right navigation apps and devices. Additionally, the GPS coordinates are fairly accurate, even when working without data, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost.

However, it’s still a good idea to bring navigation backups in case your smartphone gets lost or broken. There are many maps available, including ones for city excursions as well as for backwoods exploration and camping. You can find maps at any drug store, Walmarts, or gas stations. Another way to obtain a map is to go online to Google Maps and plot your course there. Then, you can either use the map offline or print it out. Other navigation options include a handheld GPS, which does not need data to work, and a compass to show cardinal directions.

Make Sleeping Arrangements Beforehand

Whether you are camping or sleeping at a hotel, it’s important to pick sleeping arrangements beforehand so you know where you are driving to. If you are camping, and especially if you are going to be living outdoors for several days, research the weather and determine if you are comfortable camping in every season. Additionally, if you plan your sleeping arrangements ahead of time, you can save money on your road trip. Typically drivers decide to “wing it,” which can cause them to spend more on hotels, food, and gas. However, by planning ahead, you can estimate your spending and create a budget for your road trip.

Driving across the country can be exciting and adventurous. It can also be dangerous as you navigate through unknown terrain. By utilizing the tips from this guide, you can plan and create a successful cross-country road trip adventure.

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