Spring break road trips are a great American tradition. Every year when the weather starts to warm up and universities across the land take a break, college students pile into their cars and head south for a week of fun, relaxation, and often ribald behavior. Many families take spring break road trips as well, but it’s mostly the college kids that get head south in a temporary mass migration.
Unfortunately, due to a combination of alcohol, lack of sleep, and long hours on the road, traffic accidents dramatically increase at popular spring break destinations. Researchers at the University of Miami looked at auto accidents involving fatalities at 14 spring break destinations in seven states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
The study reported that fatalities from car accidents in those locations rose by 9.1% during spring break. Also, traffic fatalities more frequently involved out-of-state drivers and/or those who were under age 25. Interestingly, the study did not find a statistically significant difference between fatal accidents due to alcohol and those involving non-impaired drivers. This suggests that exhaustion, distraction, speeding, and other factors could have played a role.
Prepping for a Safe Trip
Every long journey requires a certain amount of preparatory work to arrive at the destination and return home safely.
- Make sure registration and insurance are up-to-date. Start by making sure everyone who will be driving on the trip has a valid driver’s license. Also, check to see if the vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance are in the glove compartment before setting off. If you plan to cross the border into Mexico, check with your auto insurance company to see if you need extra coverage.
- Give your car a safety checkup. A well-maintained car is a safer car. Make sure the tires have plenty of tread. Check their air pressure and top of all fluid levels. Have the brakes checked, especially if they haven’t been replaced in a long time. Test your horn, blinkers, and lights to see that they are working properly.
- Make sure you have a spare tire in the trunk. This includes having a jack and lug nut wrench so you can change it. Otherwise, you will have to get towed or rely on roadside assistance if you get stuck with a flat. If you don’t have roadside assistance, you might want to add it to your insurance coverage before leaving on the trip. It doesn’t cost very much and is more than worth it when you need it.
- Plan your route. Getting lost is a distraction. Accidents can occur when you’re looking at a GPS or map instead of keeping your eyes on the road. Know where you’re going and which routes to take to get there. Appoint a designated navigator to keep you on the right roads at all times. Always carry a map in case you can’t get a cellular signal for your GPS.
- Check road and weather conditions in advance. Knowing about road closures, expected storms and other driving hazards can save time and enable you to drive around potentially dangerous conditions.
Safety on the Road
Once you get underway, there are many things you can do to keep the journey safe.
- Wear seat belts at all times. This is the ultimate no brainer, yet up to 10% of drivers still don’t wear seat belts. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 37,000+ people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2016, 48% were not wearing seat belts. In that same year, seat belts saved an estimated 14,668 lives. Everyone on your road trip should wear a seat belt, not just the driver.
- No drinking and driving – ever. Spring vacations for college kids tend to involve a lot of alcohol. Never get behind the wheel of a car drunk, especially on long road trips. Also, don’t drive under the influence of illicit drugs – including marijuana. And don’t drive after taking prescription medications that can make you drowsy.
- No texting and driving – ever. Numerous studies have shown that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. It actually takes longer to brake while texting than it does under the influence of alcohol. As the driver, put your cell phone away until your shift behind the wheel is over. Or, give it to someone else who can respond to calls or texts for you.
- Rotate drivers. Sleepy or exhausted drivers are a leading cause of auto accidents. Rotating drivers every few hours will keep everyone fresh and help break up the monotony of long trips. When driving at night, make it a rule that whoever gets to ride shotgun has to stay awake, as two alert drivers are better than one.
- Take frequent breaks. One of the best ways to stay alert on long trips is to stop at rest areas, get out, and stretch your legs. It can help to get a small bite to eat or a cup of coffee. But, avoid eating a heavy meal as this can make you drowsy. Breaks are also a good time to change drivers, especially if several hours have passed since the last rotation.
- Obey all speed limits. On long trips, the tendency is to put the pedal to the metal and get there as fast as you can. Speeding is another leading cause of fatal accidents, so don’t let the desire to get there fast cause you to drive at unsafe speeds. Keep in mind that highway patrol officers are extra vigilant during spring breaks. Driving at posted speed limits will help avoid costly speeding tickets.
- Be extra vigilant on rural roads. One big advantage of interstate freeways is the barrier or safety zone between cars going in opposite directions reduces head-on collisions. This is not always the care with many state or county highways. Driving on these roads requires extra alertness, especially on curvy roads or those with limited visibility.
- Don’t let others drink and drive. This goes without saying while on the long drive to your spring break destination, but it also applies once you get there. If you’ve had too much to drink, have a sober friend drive you back to the hotel. Or, call a cab or Uber it back. The same goes for your friends. If they’re in no shape to drive, give them a ride back or call a rideshare service. If necessary, take the keys away from them to keep everyone safe.
Use Common Sense
Don’t overload your vehicle with too much personal stuff. This makes it harder to handle, especially at high speeds or if tire treads are low. Also, don’t carry more people than the car is designed to hold. If you have more passengers than you have seat belts, you have too many.
Most of all, don’t be in a hurry. Relax, follow these tips, and you’ll arrive at your spring break destination safe and sound.