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Safe Holidays

Especially on the roads …

In addition to the usual stresses of the holidays comes the added load of traffic woes. This boost in gridlock hits right when the days are their shortest and the weather its unfriendliest. To avoid the pitfalls and potholes of winter-holiday driving, here are some handy tips:

  • Plan Ahead to Avoid a Bumpy Road. Allow extra time in your schedule. Bad traffic can often be avoided with a little preparation. The heaviest travel occurs the days immediately before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Consider taking an extra day off so that you aren't stuck in the pack. Also, give yourself a break from holiday stress by getting the bulk of your shopping done well before the holiday.
  • Make sure that your car is well equipped for travel. Breaking down in the dark, in bad weather, or in the cold can crush the holiday spirit. It's a good idea to take your car in for a winter check-up. Your mechanic can inspect your anti-freeze, battery, windshield wipers, and other cold-weather components. You also want to be sure that your tire pressure is at the recommended levels, as tires can be hazardous in wet weather when they are filled to improper levels.
  • Think before you drive. Remember, the highways are a community. As much as we may want to think we are isolated in our steel and glass bubbles, driving is really a social interaction without words. To understand holiday driving conditions, think of the way people act outside their cars in this time of year. Many are worried, preoccupied, hurried, distracted, and all those states of mind that make them easily agitated and less careful. On the road, this means that you should be more vigilant than usual, give people more distance, and be forgiving when someone does something rash or absent-minded. Avoid confrontations, and try not to let other drivers bring you out of the happy holiday zone.
  • Don't think of driving as a chore. Consider your travel to be part of the vacation. Rather than getting cranky from thinking that you are losing vacation time, you can try to find ways to enjoy the time you spend driving. This might include playing favorite holiday music or pre-recorded holiday "talking books," singing holiday carols, or chatting with your passengers as if you were sitting on the couch back at home.
  • Carry equipment for on-the-road emergencies. If you're traveling in bad weather or in snow country, you'll want to prepare for problems by packing flares, blankets, a first-aid kit, flashlight, water, and snacks. It's useful to have a shovel to dig out your wheels in case you get stuck, and a bag of kitty litter to pour under the wheels for traction. Also remember to pack the cell phone for emergencies, but be prudent about using it while driving in holiday traffic or in bad weather. You'll want to pack chains if you plan on heading into the snow. (These tips, by the way, apply around the calendar, not just for the holidays!)
  • Drive responsibly. Once you get on the road, drive slowly and carefully. It's the time of year when to-do lists can run long, and we all have places where we would much rather be than on the road, but a defensive approach pays off in the long run. And this one should be obvious: Don't drink and drive; be aware of your physical and legal limits and the potential dangers of intoxicated driving. To avoid other drivers who may have celebrated too much, stay off the roads at high-risk times, such as after nightfall on New Year's Eve.

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