I’ve always enjoyed a good road trip. Ever since I received my driver’s license, I’ve enjoyed packing up my vehicle with provisions, looking at a map, and going from point A to point B. It has been said, “it is not the destination but the journey that matters” and I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. The open road is bound to give the traveler his/her fair share of unexpected issues from traffic, to bad weather, to vehicle problems, or worse. While road trips are usually part of vacation plans, we can’t relax when we have time “off”. If anything, we need to be turned “on” and aware of how to improve our readiness. Road trip safety is something you should think about before you go on your next road trip.
I recently returned from an 1150 mile road trip from Utah to Arizona. I was traveling to train (yes, I train on my time off as any good instructor should) and considering the skyrocketing price of gas, I decided a more economical approach would be to rent a smaller car for my trip rather than taking my 4Runner that would consume plenty of fuel and the green bills in my wallet. This strategy worked out well as I was able to fill my rental car’s tank for less than a third of my SUV but for the trade off in fuel economy, I could have easily put myself into harm's way ill-prepared. Luckily, I had a day before my trip to get settled and stage the vehicle for success.
Part of the process of setting yourself up for good road trip safety and security includes printing out the directions and route you plan to take. Also consider having a backup route in case there is unforeseen traffic due to an accident. A copy should always be left with a reliable person (E-mailed is fine) and you should not stray from this route if possible. You should backwards plan for what is both possible and probable. Before you leave, make sure the oil has been changed, tires have adequate tread, and no other mechanical problems are present. Nobody wants to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had a flat tire with a rental car in the past in Atlanta only to find out there was no spare tire in the car. This time there was a spare tire in my rental car. Make sure you know how to change a tire as well. If you don’t know, learn! Ask a friend who might know, or use the internet for instruction. I recommend looking this up before you leave so you aren’t stuck with no cell service and a flat tire.
I moved some safety items like my tourniquets and glass breaker from my 4Runner to the rental car. I kept my most sensitive documents and equipment near me in the passenger front seat to “grab and go”. Remember to ensure your car insurance, registration and license are up to date before departing. To slow down a potential car-jacker, I always move the passenger seat forward and fill up that space to make it difficult to enter the car from the passenger door. Don’t worry about the backseat as my micro-car was filled with ammo, clothes, range gear, and more leaving little room for anything let alone anyone else.
If you start to get drowsy while driving, be humble enough to pull over and get some rest. Whatever is waiting for you at your destination would rather you get there safely than not at all. Studies show that after being awake for 18 or more hours, your brain can start to function like someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. After 24 hours, it doubles. According to the study, that’s the equivalent of a 160-pound-man drinking five beers in an hour, and then driving. Also be on the lookout for other drowsy drivers. They are just as dangerous as driving drowsy yourself.
Since staying alert is important, I broke my trip up over 2 days of travel. This meant leaving my vehicle in the parking lot of hotels. Make it a point to follow my lead and bring in anything of value while on your trip. Don’t trust the old advice of simply parking underneath a bright light in the parking lot. Criminals are bold, police response is slow, and windows are a brick away from becoming an opening for a snatch and grab. You may want to consider packing certain equipment in less-descript baggage and appear to be less capable than you really are. When stopping at gas stations, take in your surroundings before you exit your vehicle to monitor for potential threats. By the way, you need not tell the truth to the hotel receptionist when it comes to your plans in the area or reason for your trip. I’ve traveled many times in my past career for “national educator conferences” instead of my actual plans. You never know who is listening and the chances of a teacher having cool gear are far less than a shooter or outdoorsman.
Think about how you can drive defensively and be smart with your loadout. If you are taking a winter road trip, be cautious of weather reports, forecasts and road conditions. Remember your final destination is not that campsite, that shooting course, or the amusement park but back home. Remember that these aren’t just tips for road trip safety. Preparedness is a lifestyle, and it opens up a whole new door for all aspects of your life. Leave early enough to avoid speeding and potential tickets. Pack plenty of water and snacks to avoid getting on and off the road and to limit breaks. This will make your trip efficient as well. Pay attention to the speed limit and stay with the flow of traffic. Properly stow your emergency kit where it can’t be lost in an accident. Anything in a center console will be scattered about your vehicle in an emergency. Think about velcro tying or ranger banding certain items around your gear shifter and “oh crap” handles. Your vehicle is an extension of your rucksack. Pack it correctly!
Last but not least, have fun. If you’ve done your part, you won’t have to be as worried about not having a plan or failing to prepare. The open road has many pitfalls but then again, there are some great surprises like stumbling into a diner with incredible food, meeting random celebrities at rest stops, and seeing the best sunsets and sunrises. Do your part to make sure you have many road trips ahead and stay safe out there.