On the road ahead: planning, preparation key to safe trip

Keep your car in safe operating condition and be prepared before heading out summer drivig expeditions. (U.S. Air Force graphic illustration)

Keep your car in safe operating condition and be prepared before heading out summer drivig expeditions. (U.S. Air Force graphic illustration)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- It's the morning of your summer road vacation, and you've been so excited for the 1,000-mile journey you stayed up all night at a farewell send-off. With a few hours sleep, you stumble to your dusty car. It's been a while since your last oil change, last service call, even your last car wash. You're sure the bulge in your car's tires is only due to the weight of the luggage, right?

You shouldn't bet your life on it.

People take more road trip vacations than any other time during the summer months, one of the most deadly times for Airmen, said Jack Lewis of the 30th Space Wing Safety office.

"Private motor vehicle trips have been the most dangerous activities for our servicemembers and their families," he said.

He wants people to know how keep their cars in safe operating condition and how to plan their trips well before heading out on summer driving expeditions. If they don't, the cost can be devastating.

"What should be considered a time of rest, travel and relaxation often ends up in tragedy," he said.

The information the safety office sends out is of the Air Force's initiative to educate people how to stay safe during their summer activities - the 101 Critical Days of Summer safety campaign.

The first thing the safety office wants people to know about keeping the car operating safely is to keep the wheels on the car going round and round.

Some things people can do are ensure tires have enough tread and are properly inflated. Smooth tires can blowout at high speeds. Tires low on air will have less grip on the road and can have excessive sidewall flexing that increases tire wear which could lead to a blowout.

Next, drivers need their eyes toward the road. The safety office recommends people start with clean windows, make sure the wipers are in good condition and there's nothing blocking vision like decals, stickers or items piled up in the back seat or on the rear window shelf.

Some more steps to making sure the car is ready to go are to have a mechanic check the steering. But there's no need to pay a mechanic to check headlights, brake lights, taillights and directional signals.

But a car without a safe driver is like a boat without a captain. Bryan Eiler of the 30th SW Safety office said planning eliminates trouble later in the trip.

"Know how to get where you're going," he said. Sounds simple enough, but this concept can be applied to the whole of the trip. Reserve a place to stay ahead of time, take extra keys, driver's license, vehicle registration, and identification cards, and bring a good map before you start. And don't try to drive too far too fast in any one day. By knowing how to get there, people are prepared for the trip.

Safety belts while driving are also important. Be sure everybody has their safety belt fastened at all times, and that smaller children are protected by the proper child restraints, Mr. Eiler said.

Drinking and driving never mix, but the effects of drinking don't disappear when a person sobers up.

"It's strictly a myth that black coffee has sobering-up powers," Mr. Eiler said. "Ditto for cold showers or a few whiffs of fresh air. The only antidote for alcohol is time."

Finally, a little defensive driving takes travelers a long way, he said.

"Always expect the other driver to make a mistake," the safety specialist said. "Be quick to yield the right of way."

Other drivers don't pose the only dangers on the road. Even the environment can threaten a road trip, and drivers should reduce speed in rain to avoid hydroplaning, which is what happens when the car wheels lose traction - the car slides out of control. The first few drops of rain is the most dangerous.

"A little rain can cause a lot of trouble," Mr. Eiler said. "It doesn't take much rain to mix with oil and grease residue and create a slippery film on the road.

Defensive driving also applies when towing a vehicle.

"If you're pulling a trailer, make sure it's in good working condition," he said. "Keep in mind that with the extra length and weight of the trailer you'll need extra time to stop and you'll have less maneuverability. Allow extra seconds-at least one extra second for each 10 feet you're pulling."

So now it's the morning of your summer road trip, and you got a good eight-hours of sleep. You carry your emergency kit, spare keys and map to your shiny clean, well-maintained car, safe and secure that you have done your best preparing for the long road ahead.