Road Trip: Summer Driving Checklist and Safety Tips

If you’re on a road trip this summer, you won’t be alone. It’s the best way to fight cabin fever, and driving is more popular today than flying.

According to AAA, an estimated 34.9 million people will hit American roads for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This is an increase of 4.6% compared to 2021.

In another AAA study of summer travel in general, 97% of vacationers plan to drive, up from 87% in pre-pandemic years. On the other hand, AAA said that only 52% of the population feel ready to travel this year.

Therefore, if you choose to go on vacation, you can expect fewer people in some major destinations than before the pandemic in 2020.

Nevertheless, before packing your bags, a preparation of the vehicle is essential. Discover our tips for a safe and enjoyable road trip.

Road trip checklist for your vehicle

Before leaving, prepare the vehicle for the distance to be covered. the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends drivers follow these steps in the days leading up to a road trip:

1. Inspect and maintain your vehicle

Routine maintenance is essential, and sticking to your car’s maintenance schedule can help prevent costly breakdowns. Perform a basic safety check of your vehicle’s tire pressure, wiper blades, fluid levels, lights, and air conditioning. You shouldn’t put off regular services such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks and tire rotations.

If you find that something is wrong, check out our Vehicle Maintenance Rates and Maintenance Schedules page to see if your car is due and what it may cost. It’s worth taking it to a dealership or auto repair shop when you’re not sure if a service is overdue.

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2. Make child safety your primary concern

Safety and road trip checklist

All children under 13 must travel in the rear seat. And be aware of the additional risks that arise in hot weather. Heat stroke can occur when a child is left unattended in a parked vehicle.

To learn more about child seat safety, take the time to review the importance of car seat safety.

3. Store your vehicle with a security kit

NHTSA recommends drivers carry:

  • Mobile phone, charger and extra portable battery
  • First aid kit
  • Flash light
  • Flares and a white flag
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Jack (and floor mat) to change a tire
  • Work gloves and a change of clothes
  • Essential repair tools and duct tape (to temporarily repair a leaking pipe)
  • Water and paper towels for cleaning
  • Non-perishable food, drinking water and medicines
  • Extra washer fluid
  • Navigation options (phone or car navigation systems or printed maps)
  • Emergency blankets, towels and coats

4. Be Prepared for Road Trip Contingency Plans

Plan your trip and route, and check road, weather and traffic conditions to know what to expect. But also be prepared for any eventuality. Remember that a cell phone is the most critical emergency item because it allows you to call for help when and where you need it.

5. Check Reminders

Use Kelley Blue Book’s VIN Recall Checker Tool to make sure your vehicle is good to go. If you find a recall, get it fixed as soon as possible.

Millions of Americans drive cars that may have safety recalls. Dealers will always perform recall repairs free of charge. But their service bays can get swamped ahead of a busy travel season, so check early to see if your car needs free repairs.

6. Know your car

You are likely placed on this checklist item if you drive your own car. If you rent a vehicle, pick it up a few hours before the road trip to familiarize yourself with it. Familiarize yourself with the different types of driver aids and safety features you can use.

Safety tips for road trips

Once you’re on the road, car safety is all about paying attention to your surroundings and staying alert. To do this, do not neglect these necessary safety precautions:

Drive outside of rush hour

Late afternoon and early evening can be the worst times on the road. Avoid rush hour over a long weekend by leaving early Friday or Saturday morning to be on track when the travel rush begins. For the return trip, leave early on Monday or give yourself an extra day and travel on Tuesday. This way everyone is out of the way.

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Limit night driving

A National Sleep Foundation survey indicates that 60% of adults drive a car when they are tired. It also found that 37%, or 103 million people, fell asleep at the wheel. Of these, 4% of adults caused an accident by falling asleep at the wheel.

If you feel tired, stop and rest or change drivers before putting yourself or other passengers in danger. But really, limit driving at night when it’s harder to see.

Let a passenger manage traffic apps and entertainment

young woman with smartphone in the back seatWe are big fans of Waze and Google Maps. These navigation tools can guide any driver through traffic, provide travel time updates, and even alert you by warning you of road hazards. But, for safety’s sake, remember to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. Instead of multi-tasking, put one passenger in charge of navigating and selecting music or podcasts.

Take frequent breaks

Getting out of the car once in a while is good for everyone, especially the driver. The best way to avoid feeling tired while driving is to treat yourself to a regular change of scenery. And there’s no better way to do that than to stop every few hours and stretch your legs.

Share the driving

If your road trip involves multiple skilled drivers, let each take turns handling the stress of driving and relaxing in the passenger seat. It’s good for everyone’s nerves and sets the right tone for the weekend.

Share the road

Keep in mind that traffic may be heavier than expected, especially near attractions or vacation destinations. The good weather attracts many road users, including motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. Although they share the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as all motorists, they are more vulnerable. Their biggest downside is that they don’t have the protection that a car or truck provides. Leave more distance between you and a motorcycle – about 3 or 4 seconds.

Motorcycles are much lighter than other vehicles and can stop at shorter distances. Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic. This courtesy allows other road users to anticipate your movement and find a safe lane position.

Buckle up

Do we need to say this? According to the American Medical Association Journal, accidents remain one of the leading causes of death among Americans. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the total number of miles Americans traveled plummeted, road deaths increased. Give yourself and your loved ones a fighting chance and obey this essential safety law.

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Bring masks

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, whether or not everyone in your car is vaccinated, you may need masks at certain stores, restaurants, or attractions you visit. To make things easier, keep masks handy for everyone traveling so everyone can participate in all stops on the road trip.

Hot Car Awareness

Being on vacation can interrupt your routine and prevent you from checking the back seat when you get out of the vehicle. It’s hard to believe, but, on average, heatstroke deaths claim 38 lives each year in the United States. Pets are also in grave danger when left in a car, even for a short time, with cracked windows.

NHTSA reminds everyone to protect our little loved ones with these tips:

  • Lock your car when not in use to keep young children out.
  • Never leave your child alone in a car, even if you think you will only be away for a moment.
  • “Always look before you lock” so that no child or animal remains in the back seat.

Many vehicles can alert you with a back seat reminder. When drivers turn off the car, it alerts you to check the rear occupants. If you have an older car, aftermarket products also provide the same type of alert.

Gas Prices and Holiday Weekend PlanningChecklist for a road trip - gas prices

As millions of people drive 50 miles or more from home over Memorial Day weekend, you’ll want to plan your stops along the way.

Last year, during Memorial Day weekend, travelers could fill up for $2.98 a gallon on average at stations across the United States. At the time of this writing, gas price achieved a whopping $4.60 per gallon on average. Prices could rise even further as summer travelers hit the road.

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With many families driving large SUVs, trucks and RVs on vacation, the cost of long car trips can reach the level of airline tickets.

Before you go, check prices at local stations using your favorite gas app. Gas Buddy, for example, will help you locate stations with the cheapest gas prices along your route. If you drive an electric car, plan your route and locate charging stations in advance.

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