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10 summer driving mistakes

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The official start of summer is this Saturday, June 21, when most everyone hits the road for vacations and other sun-filled trips. But before you pack up the car and take to the highway, make sure you don’t make these mistakes that could either be dangerous or cost you time and money.

  • Not having a plan. Before you head out, have a route in mind and be aware of obstacles such as heavy traffic or summer construction. Plan in some well-thought-out detours so you don’t go through major cities during rush hour and avoid wasting time. Have a GPS or cell phone map app available, but remember to program them while you’re not driving to avoid distractions.
  • Driving too long. Yes, we know you want to get there already, but it’s important to take breaks, especially if you’re an older driver or not used to long trips in the car.  Pull over every two hours to stretch your legs, hit the restroom, and grab a drink or snack. You may not even realize you need the break, but that stop will help you continue the journey safely.
  • Rushing to get there.  “Don’t be in such a hurry,” Julie Lee, vice president and National Director at AARP, said.  Aggressive driving and speeding are not only very dangerous, but they can negatively affect your gas mileage.  Stay calm and remember that vacation is a time to relax, not stress out in the car.
  • Leaving children or pets unattended.  Even sitting five minutes in a hot car can be dangerous, as your vehicle acts as like a greenhouse and can heat up quickly.  Roll down the windows, or, better yet, let everyone get out for a stretch, even if it’s a short stop. See our article on safe traveling with a pet.
  • Forgetting to check tires. An underinflated tire generates more heat due to excessive sidewall flexing, adversely affecting handling and fuel economy. Make sure your tires are properly inflated before you head out and regularly check them throughout the summer months (and year-round for that matter).
  • Using your phone.  We know a long drive can be boring, but the driver must resist the temptation to reach for a phone.  Put it away out of sight or as many teens do, have a designated texter to take over and respond to messages for you.
  • Not paying attention to those who share the road.  More motorcyclists and bicyclists are out when the weather is nice, so give them space and allow room if you are going to pass them. Be extra vigilant, because bikers can be hard to spot, especially in the dark or around dawn or dusk.
  • Not being prepared for emergencies.  Don’t go anywhere without a basic emergency kit.  Have water, a first-aid kit, a blanket, and flashlight. Also, make sure you have an emergency road side assistance program such as AAA available to call if necessary.
  • Running on empty.  Keep an eye on your gas gauge. You don’t want to get caught on empty and in a remote area far away from a gas station.  Many phone apps can help you map out the closest stations.
  • Pulling off in an unsafe area.  If you need to pull over on the side of the road for any reason, make sure you pull to the far right into the shoulder as possible, Lee says. Make sure the wheels are cocked to the right, so if you get hit from behind you don’t end up getting pushed into traffic.  Try to stay in your car with the safety belt on and use your phone to call for help.

For more advice to help older drivers this summer, check out AARP’s resources at http://www.aarp.org/drive.  Drivers can find a classroom to brush up on skills or test skills and knowledge before making a trip.

Summer is an especially dangerous time for teen drivers as well; see our tips for teens in our special section.

—Liza Barth


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