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Holiday Safe-Driving Guide

Tips for Shopping, Running Errands, and Road-tripping

No matter what holiday you celebrate, ’tis the season! Many of us will travel near and far to celebrate together and make lasting memories. Over the next six weeks, families will spend countless hours in their cars – shopping, running errands, and attending holiday activities. For many, the vehicle will start to feel like a second home. Use these tips to stay safe in the car while you’re out living your best holiday life. 

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

• See and be seen. When scouring parking garages for spaces, use your headlights, even in the daytime. The light will let other cars see you coming around turns and can make fitting into that tight parking space a little easier, too. Research shows that keeping your headlights on reduces your crash risk even during daylight hours.

• Look out for little ones. It can be difficult to see small children in busy parking lots. Be aware of your surroundings and look for children, who may make quick, unpredictable movements. Outside the car, parents should require kids to stay close to adults at all times in parking lots. 

• Thieves like to window shop. Place all shopping bags and valuables in the trunk, including the GPS and its mount, so they
are not visible to would-be thieves. Remove any evidence, such as GPS suction cup marks from the vehicle’s windshield.
It takes a thief just seconds to smash a window and steal your holiday loot. 

• Stay on guard in parking lots. Choose a well-lit area to park at night. When returning to your vehicle, have keys ready in hand and check the interior of your car before entering, using a penlight at night. Don’t linger in the car; once you’re buckled up, get moving.

Safe Driving Strategies

Don’t drive intexticated. Distracted driving kills an average of nine people and injures 1,000 each day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Remove distractions by putting cell phones out of reach, pre-programming GPS devices, and limiting conversations with passengers. Earlier this year, AAA launched the “Don’t Drive Intoxicated – Don’t Drive Intexticated” campaign with the goal to make distracted driving just as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. Take the pledge to drive distraction-free by visiting to join this lifesaving effort. 

Buckle up. Seatbelts save lives. Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash, and remember, kids are watching your every move. 

Slow down, move over. Safety personnel such as first responders, fire, EMS, police, tow truck operators, and service technicians put their lives at risk each time they respond to a call for help. According to Virginia law, when approaching an emergency vehicle with lights flashing on the side of the highway, you must change lanes away from the stopped emergency vehicle. If you are unable to change lanes, then slow down and pass with caution. 

Plan for a sober ride. Before heading out to celebrate the festivities, decide whether you’ll drink or you’ll drive – you can’t do both. If you will drink, designate a sober, reliable driver to get you home safely or plan to use ride-sharing, call a taxi, sober friend, or family member, or use public transportation. If you plan to drive, commit to staying sober. Lives depend on it!

Road Trip Ready with Cold-Weather Prep

Each year, AAA projects millions of Americans (112 million in 2018) will travel for the holiday season and most of them – nine out of ten – will drive to their destinations. If you are one of the many planning to hit the road to make memories with loved ones this holiday season, pack this essential checklist with you to help keep you and your family safe this holiday season: 

Battery If your car battery is more than three years old, it is likely time for a new one. According to AAA’s Automotive Research Center, at 0°F, a car’s battery loses about 60 percent of its strength and at 32°F, it loses 35 percent. Have the battery checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to face cold weather. 

Tires Make sure to inflate tires to the recommended pressure listed in the owner’s manual or on the driver-side doorjamb (not the wall of the tire). To check tread wear, insert a quarter upside down; if the top of George Washington’s head is visible at any point, it’s time to start shopping for new tires.

Fluids Important system fluids such as engine coolant/anti-freeze, transmission, and brake fluid should be checked and changed
at recommended intervals.

Brakes Inspect brakes as recommended in your owner’s manual, or sooner if you notice pulsations, pulling, noises while braking, or a longer stopping distance. Correct minor brake problems promptly.

Wipers Replace worn windshield-wiper blades. Purchase one-piece beam-type or rubber-clad winter blades to fight snow and ice
build-up. Use cold-weather windshield washer solvent and carry an ice-scraper.

Lights Inspect all lights and bulbs and replace burned out bulbs. Clean road grime or clouding from lenses.

Engine Have any engine drivability problems corrected at a trusted repair shop. Symptoms like hard starts, rough idling, stalling, or diminished power could signal a problem that would be exacerbated by cold weather. Engine hoses and belts should be inspected for wear or cracking.

Prepare your emergency roadside kit. To be ready for any situation, your kit should include: jumper cables or battery booster, first-aid kit, flashlight with extra batteries, ice scraper with brush, small snow shovel, warning devices (flares or triangles), basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench), winter window washer solvent, paper towels, non-perishable snacks for people and pet passengers, bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats, blankets, warm clothing such as gloves, hats, and scarves, and a fully charged mobile phone pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services. 

This is a lot of information, but it’s important to stay safe whether you’re traveling to the mall or across the country. Have a happy and trouble-free holiday season!

Tammy Arnette is a senior public affairs specialist for AAA in Richmond. She lives in Hanover County with her husband Spencer, and has two children, Kellie and Joey, and two adopted dogs, Abby and Teddy.
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