Nothing says summer like a family road trip. Before you hit the road, take the time to review these National Highway Transportation Safety Administration tips for a safe summer road trip.
Before You Go
Regular maintenance will go a long way toward preventing breakdowns. If your vehicle has been serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, it should be in good condition to travel. If not—or you don’t know the service history of the vehicle you plan to drive—schedule a preventive maintenance check-up.
Check for outstanding recalls on your vehicle by using the NHTSA’s VIN Lookup Tool.
Vehicle Safety Checklist
Tires — Air pressure, tread wear, spare
Check your vehicle’s tire inflation pressure at least once a month, when your tires are cold (they haven’t been driven on for three hours or more)—and don’t forget to check the spare. The correct pressure for your tires is listed on a label on the driver’s doorframe or in the vehicle owner’s manual—the correct pressure for your vehicle is NOT the number listed on the tire itself. A tire doesn’t have to be punctured to lose air. All tires naturally lose some air over time; and underinflation is the leading cause of tire failure.
Inspect your tires for signs of excessive or uneven wear. If the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch, it’s time to replace your tires. Look for the built-in wear bar indicators or use the penny test to determine when it’s time to replace your tires. Place a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your vehicle needs new tires. If you find uneven wear across the tires’ tread, it means your tires need rotation and/or your wheels need to be aligned.
Belts and Hoses — Condition and fittings
Visually inspect all belts and hoses for signs of bulges, blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber. High summer temperatures accelerate the rate at which rubber degrades, so it’s best to replace them now if they show signs of wear. While you’re at it, make sure all hose connections are secure.
Wiper Blades — Wear and tear on both sides
After the heavy use from winter snow and spring rain, windshield wipers may need to be replaced. Like rubber belts and hoses, wiper blades are vulnerable to the summer heat. If they aren’t in top condition, invest in new ones before you go.
Cooling System — Coolant level and servicing
The radiator in your vehicle needs water and antifreeze (coolant) to keep your engine functioning properly. When your car hasn’t been running and the engine is completely cool, carefully check your coolant level to make sure the reservoir is full. In addition, if your coolant is clear, looks rusty, or has particles floating in it, it is time to have your cooling system flushed and refilled. If your coolant looks sludgy or oily, immediately take your vehicle to a mechanic.
Fluid Levels — Oil, brake, transmission, power steering, and windshield washer fluids
If it’s time or close to time for an oil change, do it before you hit the road. Also check the following fluid levels: brake, automatic transmission or clutch, power steering, and windshield washer fluid. Make sure each reservoir is full; if you see any signs of fluid leakage, address this before you go.
Lights — Headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, interior lights, and trailer lights
See and be seen! Make sure all the lights on your vehicle are in working order. Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and interior lights. Towing a trailer? Check the trailer’s brake lights and turn signals, as trailer light connection failure is a common problem and a serious safety hazard.
Air Conditioning — A/C check
Check A/C performance before traveling. Lack of air conditioning on a hot summer day affects people who are in poor health or are sensitive to heat, such as children and older adults.
Seatbelts Save Lives
Half of all people killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2017 were not wearing seatbelts. In fact, people who don’t wear seatbelts are 30 times more likely to be ejected from their vehicle during a crash. The bottom line is seatbelts save lives and everyone in the car, including backseat passengers, should buckle-up. There are mandatory seatbelt laws in 49 states, so remember to Click It or Ticket.
All children 13 and younger should ride in the back seat. Check the NHTSA’s car seat and booster seat guidelines to see if your child should be using one and to ensure proper fit/installation.
Remember that long trips can be tough on children—so, in turn, tough on you. Plan enough time to stop along the way to stretch, get refreshments, return any calls/text messages, and change drivers if you’re feeling drowsy. Don’t push the distance you travel in one day. Bring plenty of items that will keep kids content and occupied. This makes the trip seem faster and keeps you from being distracted every time they ask, “Are we there yet?”
Share the Road
Warmer weather attracts many types of roadway users, including motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
While they have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as every motorist, these road users are more vulnerable because they do not have the same protection. Allow more distance between your vehicle and a motorcycle, as motorcycles are lighter and require less distance to stop. Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging, which allows other road users to anticipate your movement and find a safe lane position.
Be mindful of pedestrians:
Avoid Distracted and Impaired Driving
Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from driving, such as cell phone use, texting while driving, eating, drinking, setting the GPS, talking with passengers, and using in-vehicle technologies and portable electronic devices.
Set specific safety rules with your co-drivers before you hit the road. These rules should include refraining from activities that take your eyes and attention off the road. Enlist the help of passengers for directions, setting the GPS, and making/returning calls or texts.
Alcohol and drugs can impair perception, judgment, motor skills, and memory – the skills critical for safe and responsible driving. Impaired driving not only puts the driver at risk – it threatens the lives of passengers and all others who share the road. Illegal drugs, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications, can be just as deadly as alcohol use behind the wheel. Always designate a sober driver or use a taxi/ride-share service to get home safely.
Remember, with road trips, getting there is half the fun!
Casey & Devoti is a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm. Together Partners Matt Casey and Matt Devoti have nearly 40 years of trial experience. They handle a variety of personal injury matters, including: car, truck and train crashes, victims of impaired and distracted driving, medical malpractice and birth injuries, product liability, slips/trips/falls, elder care and sexual abuse, Workers’ Compensation, and wrongful death. Matt and Matt proudly serve clients throughout metropolitan St. Louis, southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois. If you or a loved one have been injured by the negligence of another, call the office today for a free, no-obligation consultation: (314) 421-0763.