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Driving Safely on Your Family Vacation

Planning on driving your family to a vacation spot this summer? Your chances for arriving safely increase with a healthy respect for the realities of highway travel.

For instance, at 55 mph on a rural stretch of interstate highway, you have less than a 1 percent chance of involvement in a fatal crash. Increase your speed by just 5 mph, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statistics, and your chances shoot up to 7 percent.

And did you know that almost three out of four of the highway fatalities involving trucks, as reported by the FHWA for 1999, were caused by automobile drivers?

Or that even though the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 34 is a highway accident, your chances of surviving increase by almost half if you're wearing a seat belt?

The following are a few commonsense safety rules to prepare for summer travel.

Let's start with the driver

Make sure you are fully rested before beginning a trip, the AAA advises. Pack the day before you travel and get a full night's sleep.

Sleep deprivation leads to "micro-sleeps" of four to five seconds. In that time, at 55 mph, you travel 100 feet, notes the FHWA. Some warning signs of sleepiness: You can't stop yawning or you don't remember driving the last few miles.

Only sleep will compensate. Pull over and take a 20-minute nap followed by a brief walk.

Don't forget to check the family car

Prepare the car by checking hoses, belts and especially tires.

Pack an emergency kit, including a flashlight, batteries, candle, jumper cables and reflective devices.

You also should have a first-aid kit. The American Red Cross suggests bandages, antiseptic towels, adhesive tape, sterile pads, disposable gloves, scissors, a thermometer, analgesics and appropriate medications.

Now let's hit the road

Don't take highway signs and road markings for granted. Be alert for left exits because this is the passing lane. Beware of vehicles exiting ahead of you.

Another potentially dangerous situation is when traffic both enters and exits at the same interchange. Through traffic and exiting traffic have right-of-way over entering traffic.

Road construction areas also require caution. A person holding a red flag has the same authority in a construction zone as an official stop sign.

And while you should look over your shoulder when changing lanes, don't linger in another vehicle's blind spot, especially trucks and buses, whose blind spots are much larger.

Finally, never back up on a ramp. If you find yourself exiting at the wrong spot, exit anyway and get back on the highway rather than risk lives by stopping.

You can avoid road rage

Don't incite anger in another motorist, the AAA says. If someone gets on your bumper and flashes lights, don't say, "I'm not going to move." Get out of the way.

Don't compete with other drivers on the road, the FHWA advises. Don't take another's actions personally and don't react to another's uncivil behavior. The bottom line, says the U.S. Department of Transportation, is fairness and cooperation among drivers sharing the road together.

Keeping the kids happy

  • Pack healthy snacks and beverages.

  • Bring small toys, books, games, cassettes or possibly a portable TV or DVD player with earphones, and movies for older children.

  • Mark your trip's starting point and destination on a map and point out landmarks along the way so they can follow your progress.