It’s time to figure out holiday travel, and if you’re thinking about driving out to see your friends and family, you won’t be the only one. AAA estimated that more than 51 million people drove at least 50 miles to see their families last year. That’s nearly one-quarter of all licensed drivers in the U.S.
Now that you know millions of other drivers will also decide to road-trip it to their holiday destinations, preparing ahead of time for the risks of long drives and crowded highways are key to avoid frustrating and harmful accidents. Here are 3 truths about driving long road trips alone with which you should become comfortable.
1. Two sets of eyes are better than one
Maureen Vogel, Senior Manager, Public Relations, National Safety Council, says that ideally if you’re going to go on a road trip, it’s better to not drive alone.
“Two sets of eyes are better than one, especially on long trips,” she said. If your passenger also has a driver’s license, then they can also take over driving for a while and give you a rest.
But then again, not everyone has the opportunity to bring a passenger along. If that’s the case, says Vogel, then think of a long drive as a work day—plan to drive up to 8 hours each day. Pushing yourself past 8 hours a day, just to make a distance goal, is not a wise idea.
2. Driving is strenuous
“Driving is a job; driving is work,” Vogel says. “It’s important that when you’re behind the wheel, you’re fully alert and engaged with what you’re doing.”
Many of us may not see driving as laborious work. Think, however, about how exhausted you become after driving through a heavy rainstorm or after hours of nighttime driving. Think about how much attention and effort it takes to stay focused—especially while driving long distances along rural highways. Driving can easily become monotonous; it’s almost impossible to keep from zoning out. Soon, you could be veering into another lane or off onto the shoulder of the road, causing an accident and great harm to yourself and others on the road.
To prevent the eventual exhaustion and doldrums that can come from driving, Vogel advises that drivers take breaks every 90 minutes to 2 hours. This will give you a chance to stretch your legs, rest your eyes for a few minutes, get some food, and use the bathroom if needed.
“You might think that you can just keep driving, or get a cup of coffee and say, ‘OK, I can power through this,’ but your body doesn’t work that way,” Vogel says. “Your mind can trick you into thinking that you’re more alert than you actually are. You do really need to trust that you’re going to get fatigued—it’s really important to give your mind a break.”
3. Off-the-cuff planning for long road trips alone is not safe
As much as we promote safe driving tips and awareness, so too do we with planning ahead of time. Being a prepared driver can make all the difference when it comes to encountering sudden incidents and unexpected situations behind the wheel.
- Make sure your car is ready for a long trip. You may have a car suitable for commuting around town but not for an eight-hour trip. Taking your car to a mechanic will ensure you don’t have an unexpected stop or end to your trip. Yet even if your car is serviced, you may still have an emergency while driving. So make sure you have an emergency kit in your car, complete with nonperishable food, bottled water, blankets, a first aid kit, roadside assistance items such as flares and emergency warning triangles, and jumper cables.
- Make sure someone knows of your plans. This may be intuitive if you’re driving to visit friends or family, but if you’re driving to a hotel, campsite, or some other location, keep someone in the loop. Let a loved one know when you’re due to arrive at your destination, and let them know you’ve also made it safely, once there.
- Bring plenty of healthy food and water. Healthy snacks and water can keep you energized and hydrated if you aren’t able to stop for a while. If you need the occasional caffeinated drink to help you keep alert and focused, that’s OK, but rely on breaks to help revitalize you.