Staying Safe on Texas Roads This Summer

Whether you’re channeling your inner Clark Griswold this summer or simply want to take your significant other on a small getaway, Texas definitely has its fair share of beautiful campsites, national parks, vineyards and theme parks.

Texas has over 80,000 miles of maintained roads and highways, which makes driving a great mode of transportation to and from all the landmarks and destinations the state has to offer, but all that time on the road this summer can come with its own Texas-sized dose of hazards.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 1,037 fatal crashes on Texas roads between May and August 2014. Of those crashes, 600 were on an interstate or U.S. and state highways.

Although you cannot control every aspect of your vacation, there are some pretty simple steps you can take to help keep your family safe on the road this summer.

Before you leave for your trip make arrangements to have your car serviced. Regular maintenance such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks and tire rotations can go a long way toward preventing breakdowns.

Even a well-maintained vehicle can break down, so packing an emergency roadside kit or purchasing one already assembled can come in handy if you have any car troubles during your trip. Some handy items to pack are:

  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Jack for changing a tire
  • Nonperishable food, drinking water and medicine
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Emergency blankets

One of the most important things you can have is your phone so you can call for help, but remember to also have an extra charger handy so your phone is always charged and ready.

You may have already checked your car for recalls, but of course, you can always check your car’s status at any time by visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website and entering your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), which can usually be found on the inside panel of the driver side door. The free look-up tool checks your car against any applicable recalls within the last 15 years, and the best part is if your car is part of a recall, the repair is free.

You can also make sure your travels will go as planned by performing a basic safety check of your car. Make sure all lights (interior and exterior) are in good, working order. Check your coolant level. If it looks clear, rusty, oily or has particles floating in it, take your vehicle in to have the system flushed and refilled.

While you’re under the hood, check your fluid levels (oil, brake, transmission, power steering, and windshield washer), as well as your belts and hoses. If fluids are low, top them off, and if you see any blisters, cracks or cuts in the rubber on your belts and hoses, have them replaced.

Summer isn’t without it’s occasional downpour, and you definitely don’t want to be in the middle of one only to realize your wiper blades aren’t in tip-top shape. This is a relatively inexpensive fix, and most auto parts stores will replace them for you.

Nothing can put a damper on a summer road trip like a broken air conditioner, but it can also pose a serious risk for those who are in poor health or are sensitive to heat, like children or the elderly. So get it checked out before hitting the road.

Last but certainly not least, check your tires. Check the pressure and tread wear on all tires, as well as the condition of your spare. The appropriate air pressure can be found in your car’s manual, and placing a penny between the treads of your tires can help you figure out if it’s time to replace them. If you can see the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head when you place the penny upside down in the tread, it’s time.

Once you’re on the road, the best thing you can do and teach your children is to buckle up. Seat belt use among young children often depends upon the behaviors modeled through the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40 percent of children riding with unbelted drivers were unrestrained as well. Children rely upon adults when learning to make choices. Be the best role model for children by buckling yourself and them up every time for every ride. If your children are still in car or booster seats, make sure they are properly installed and they have not outgrown their seat.

Also, never leave a child alone in a parked car, even if the windows are rolled down or the air conditioning is on. The body temperature of children can heat up to three to five times faster than the body temperature of adults, and on an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes. Any Texas native can tell you it gets much hotter than that in the summer, so don’t even chance it, no matter how quick you think you’ll be.

Take precautions when children are outside of the vehicle as well. Before you back out of a driveway or parking spot, walk around your vehicle to check for children. Children tend to hide and play around cars, and every car has a blind zone. Also lock your vehicle’s doors at all times when it’s not in use, even when it’s parked in the garage, and place the keys where children can’t reach or find them.

Finally, while on the road, stop at regular intervals to take a group stretch, get something to eat and drink, return any calls or text messages, and change drivers if you’re feeling tired or drowsy. Even if you didn’t plan on stopping off at a hotel overnight, it’s in your best interest and your family’s best interest to spend the night and recharge if you have even the slightest doubt that you can stay awake for the remainder of the drive.

Resist the urge to check your phone. If you must know what text or phone call you missed, have someone in the car check for you. Distracted driving resulted in almost 92,000 car crashes in Texas in 2014. Your life and the lives of your passengers and other road users aren’t worth a phone call, text or status update. Keep in mind that many Texas cities have laws making it illegal to even handle a phone while driving. So keep your family and others safe, and save yourself the traffic ticket by waiting until you have finished driving to reach for your phone.

Any travel destination is going to have its fair share of pedestrians and even bicyclists. Be mindful of this and the fact that not every pedestrian may be aware of you or their surroundings.

Also be mindful of your speed. When you’ve been driving for a long stretch of time it’s easy to think you’re going slower than you actually are and up your speed.

Of course, avoid driving while impaired. Nearly a third of the 1,037 fatal crashes that happened in the summer of 2014 were alcohol related. Illegal drugs, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications, can be just as deadly on the road as alcohol. If you’re taking a new medication and are unaware of how it will affect you while driving, plan to have someone else drive just in case.

Adhering to these simple precautions can help keep you, your family and others safe on the road this summer so everyone can enjoy more of the amazing sights and sounds Texas has to offer.

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