First, check your hire car thoroughly before you take to the open roads in the United States.
Check the tires, wiper blades, defroster, fluids, and the belt and hose connections. Make sure your spare tire is in good shape, too.
Then gear up with water (for both you and your radiator), snacks, a blanket, travel pillow, first-aid kit, flashlight, the tools (and know-how) you need to repair a flat tire, safety reflector or flares, and an extra quart of oil.
Bring along a map (yes, an actual paper map) and keep a spare key in your pocket, separate from the rest of your other keys.
While a fender bender in the city can be a bummer, a high-speed accident on the interstate can be fatal. Consumer Affairs reports that higher speed limits through rural areas make the roadways in the western part of the country – from Montana to New Mexico – the most dangerous highways in the U.S. Also a factor is the time it takes for help to reach a remote location.
275 people died in New Mexico in 2013, many of those were on the I-25.
There are more than 32,000 traffic deaths every year in this country, about the same amount of Americans killed annually by gun violence. Drunk driving is a factor in around a third of those car accidents, so it goes without saying, don’t drink and drive. You’ll find zero tolerance for it everywhere and stiff penalties if you’re busted.
A few other statistics to keep in mind: According to the National Safety Council, texting while driving raises the likelihood of an accident eight times, and crashes involving texting or talking on a cell phone – both hands free and hand held – make up nearly 30% of all accidents.
Did you know New Hampshire is the only state in the union that doesn’t require adults to wear a seatbelt? Seeing as how seatbelts can improve your odds of surviving a fatal crash by 45% (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), it seems folks in the Granite State really take their state motto of “Live Free or Die” seriously.
States also differ on helmets for motorcyclists, cell phone usage, and on smoking cigarettes in a car with minors, among numerous other things. Luckily the AAA has this handy guide on traffic laws by state.
So just know that when you’re on your road trip, you can blow smoke rings in your kid’s face in Texas, but don’t do it in Louisiana.
If you’re making the highway your home in an RV or van, campgrounds are your best bet. Truck stops are another alternative, but you may want to pack along some earplugs and a sleep mask; it’s also considered proper etiquette to buy something or have a meal there. Rest areas aren’t intended for overnight stays but can do the trick if you just need a few quick Zs; because of their often-isolated locations and poor lighting, though, they can sometimes be unsafe. Your ace in the hole just might be a Walmart – most of them will allow RVs to park overnight in the parking lot. Just check in with the manager first, and again, it’s polite to make some kind of purchase.
The black and white cruiser is flashing blue and red in your rearview mirror. A queasy feeling that falls somewhere between an invasive medical exam and an IRS audit washes over you. You’re getting pulled over – what should you do? First, stay cool. Try not to panic and this info, provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, will get you through it … although we can’t promise you won’t get that speeding ticket.
And if you feel like you’ve been treated badly, don’t argue it out on the roadside. You won’t win. Take down the officer’s name and badge number then make a complaint afterward.
According to the AAA, aggressive driving – as in tailgating and erratic lane-changing – is a factor in up to 56% of all fatal car accidents. Combine that with a Harvard School of Public Health study that found motorists with guns are more likely to act aggressively, and you have a potentially lethal combination. The AAA studied 10,000 road rage cases over a seven-year period, tallying more than 200 murders and 12,000 injuries.
So how can you avoid a road rage incident? Here’s what the AAA recommends.
Seems pretty basic, but just don’t cut anyone off (check your blind spot before changing lanes); don’t drive slowly in the left lane (that lane is for passing or faster traffic); don’t tailgate (you’ll be at fault for any accident); don’t make rude gestures (no matter how well deserved).
Give angry drivers plenty of space and avoid eye contact. If you need help, call the police or drive to a populated location like a shopping center or hospital. Remain in your car and honk the horn to get attention.
Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going, and perhaps switch up your drive tunes from fast and furious to a slow jam. Do a little deep breathing and try not to take another driver’s actions personally. There could be any number of reasons why they’re driving like a doofus.
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