Long-Distance Driving Advice and Road Trip Safety (3/3) – General Advice for Road Trip Safety

Long-Distance Driving Advice and Road Trip Safety (3/3) – General Advice for Road Trip Safety

Today’s post will cover the third and final topic to consider when you’re driving on a long-distance road trip – road trip safety.

As a reminder, here are the topics of this 3 part series:

  1. Essential Roadside Emergency Knowledge and Equipment
  2. Road Trip Car Accessories to Help Make Long-Distance Driving More Comfortable and
  3. General Advice for Road Trip Safety

So you’re all packed and you’re ready to go. You’ve set up a meeting point to pick up your friends and you’ve already raided the grocery stores like a maniac 9-year-old with 100 bucks to buy any snack you want. You’re finally seated inside the car, ready to start your road trip.

The first few hours of a road trip are always a breeze. Everyone is full of topics to chat about, nobody minds the music selection, and the snack bags are full and ready to be opened.

But after a few hours on the road, the excitement wears off, the chattering might stop, and perhaps the first signs of crankiness start appearing. Beyond just the standard driving safety measures, the interpersonal dynamics can definitely affect the quality of your road trip – so here’s some general advice that I’ve found to have really helped me get through all the various road trips I’ve been on without wanting to unfriend my road trip buddy.

This post is lengthy. Here are a few links to help you jump to the content you’re looking for. Enjoy!

1. Road trip crankiness

Nothing can ruin a segment of your road trip more than road trip crankiness. If either a passenger or a driver’s mood suddenly turns sour, there’s no escaping it when you’re stuck in that car of yours. Unfortunately, crankiness is inevitable when you’re stuck in a tight space for hours on end. The best thing you can do is to prevent as many triggers as possible and plan for the inevitable.

Did you know? Emotional driving can have adverse impacts on driving behavior?

The emotional side of cognitive distraction: Implications for Road Safety, Michelle Chan and Anthony Singhal

Prevent road trip crankiness by predicting potential triggers

After going on several road trips with friends and family, I can confidently identify a number of ‘triggers’ that can change my mood for the worse. I’ve since learned how to manage my own triggers. Here are some examples of what can cause my mood to change and things I’ve done to help manage them:

  • I get tired from driving more than 3-4 hours at a time. When I drive longer than this, I know my replies become shorter, terser, and more sarcastic. To manage this, I let my friends and family know in advance what my limitations are and switch out before tiring out.
  • Backseat drivers also result in very quick mood changes. To manage this trigger, I’ll make a conscious efforts to ask for follow-up suggestions to keep things positive. For closer friends and family, I’ll address this prior to our trip and set basic passenger ground rules to help reduce this from happening.
  • If I am dehydrated, I’m prone to headaches and headaches result in crankiness. For some reason I get this more often in the car than I’d like. Nowadays I ensure that I extra water is stashed in the front of the car to prevent this from happening.

While I listed my own personal triggers there are definitely many more! So take some time to brainstorm some in advance and plan for them in advance.

Ideally, your group should have a quick chat about each person’s mood triggers before the road trip. But I know! I know! That’s some awkward conversation to have when you’re just excited to travel with friends! So if you don’t want to talk about it, then the next best thing is to predict your own triggers and bring tools to manage your own triggers to prevent as many mood-changing instances as possible.

Decide in advance how you’d like the group to address the change in mood

Penguins Arguing - Credit: Long Ma from Unsplash

Like these penguins, crankiness can be
Penguins Arguing – Credit: Long Ma from Unsplash

We’ve done our best to manage as many scenarios and triggers as possible, but now you’re sitting in the car with your friend and someone said something that rubbed the wrong way. Uh oh!

The driver is stiff-backed and staring straight ahead, and the passengers are all curled towards the windows staring out the windows in defiant silence. Now what? In this scenario you could be trapped in the car with the silence dragging on for hours, or you could be stuck in the car squabbling over something for hours too.

Remember, crankiness in a long-distance driving is inevitable. But there are definitely a couple of ways you can manage it and prevent it from dragging on longer than it needs to:

  1. If you can, stop somewhere nearby to stretch your legs and give everyone space. Sometimes all that is needed is a change in scenery and some time apart. This doesn’t have to be an official rest stop, but even pulling off to the side of the road and walking for a few minutes can really help
  2. Wait it out – but wait it out while listening to something – have backup audio books, pre-downloaded podcasts, or comedy shows on standby. Hearing a shared experience can provide a distraction that allows natural reactions and conversations to start back up again. Personally, I’ve found that comedy and informative podcasts have really helped boost the mood back again.

2. Prioritize the driver’s needs and preferences first

Driver with sun in the background
Maria driving with sun in the background – taken in Arizona

Even if you’re the best of friends, your music, audiobook, podcast, comedy show tastes might be different. As a passenger in a road trip, your safety is very much in the hands of the person driving. As such, whenever I go on road trips, I always make every effort to ensure the driver is comfortable and relaxed.

This means that when it’s my friend’s turn they get preference over things like:

  • Car climate control
  • Audio control (their preferred music playlists, audiobooks, podcasts, etc.)
  • Priority on where they put their drinks in the car
  • Updated rotation of car snacks (if each person has different snack preferences)
  • Upcoming food or rest stop decisions if they haven’t been planned ahead

Some of the items might seem a bit odd, like updating the car snack rotation, but I’ve had plenty of experiences in the past where we’d go into a road trip packed with snacks that each person likes, and as a driver, it’s always a bit of a plus if your favourite snacks are packed in the front of the car!

3. Plan frequent stops for rest breaks and food breaks

Lunch break beside car
Lunch break beside car – taken by Angelo’s brother: @afmsnaps

If you’re not in a rush to see your next stop on the road trip, look for and plan for rest stops every 2 to 4 hours of your drive if possible.

A tortuous memory I had as a kid was going on a bus tour to Eastern Canada with my family. One fateful day, the tour bus washroom in the back was closed because it was full. We had just finished up our lunch and the next stop was a 6-hour drive away. I used the washroom before hopping onto the bus, but I drank a lot of soup and water for lunch and by the two-hour mark I already felt the need to go. I ended up holding for the next four hours in silent torture as the need to go kept rising. Sadly, I was so focused on needing to go that I couldn’t hear a word the tour guide was saying the rest of the ride. When we finally did get to our next stop, there was additional torture waiting for me as I had to wait in line with other tourists that needed to go too. I never want to experience something like that again…. so rest stops every few hours are a must for me now!

4. Reduce or avoid hours driven at night

Stop Sign outside of the Chapel of the Holy Cross
Stop Sign outside of the Chapel of the Holy Cross

According to the article “Road Traffic Casualties: understanding the night-time death toll” published by S PlainisI J Murray, and I G Pallikaris, there is a disproportionate number of fatal injuries that occur after dark. Among other factors, the study found that poorly lit, or low lit roadways play a major role in this effect. The study concluded that low visibility conditions contributed to longer reaction times to changes in our environment, which translates to significantly increased stopping distances.

So although many would argue that night driving is better because of the lowered traffic, it may be better to avoid driving at night if:

  • you’re fatigued / have been driving for a long time without breaks already – the danger of falling asleep at the wheel is increased at night
  • it is not a time you are normally awake – similar to the above point, driving outside of your regular hours means you’re more likely to be tired or sleepy at the wheel
  • you are more sensitive to light changes / have astigmatism – even if you have glasses or contacts, if you haven’t had the prescription checked in a while, the low visibility conditions may enhance your light sensitivities even further, making it again more difficult and distracting to drive at night
  • it is raining – rain at night not only brings the usual slippery conditions, but comes with additional challenges as it refracts what little light is available – making it more difficult to drive and stay in lanes

5. Drive slower at night in case of wildlife animals

Pack Mules for people hiking all the way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
Pack Mules for people hiking all the way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon

If you’re driving across Canada, you’re probably already familiar with other road tripper stories to watch out for large wildlife. Thankfully I haven’t had any near-hit incidents, but the stories my friends tell me about hitting moose or deer are enough to keep me alert and cautious at night!

Did you know:

While wildlife vehicle collisions can occur at any point in time, the peak time of day for wild animal-vehicle collisions is between 7 p.m. and midnight?

Collisions spike in autumn months, specifically from October through January – mating season for moose and deer.

Wildlife Vehicle Collisions What You Need to Know – Desjardins General Insurance

The best thing to do during the night is to watch for the yellow animal crossing signs and drive slowly at night to help prevent collisions from happening.

6. Tips for using high beams at night

Our 2-person tent against the backdrop of a beautifully lit night sky in Williams, Arizona
Our 2-person tent against the backdrop of a beautifully lit night sky in Williams, Arizona

Using your car’s high beams at night is a very useful way to increase your own visibility while driving. However, I’m sure many of you have felt personally blinded by oncoming traffic’s high beams before. That feeling of driving on a highway while still temporarily blind is definitely not pleasant!

When using high beams at night, please remember a couple of tips (tips also include what to do when you’re being blinded by high beams!):

  • When approaching vehicles from behind, turn off your high beams to avoid blinding / startling the car in front of you
  • If you see oncoming traffic and you can see two distinct oncoming headlights from the oncoming traffic, turn off your high beams to prevent blinding oncoming traffic
  • If oncoming traffic has their high beams on, give a quick one-off flash to remind them that their high beams are still on. If they do not remove their high beams, look toward the right at the edge of the road to avoid being blinded by their lights
  • If a vehicle is approaching you from behind with high beams on, you can tap your rear-view mirror downwards to minimize the high beam glare

7. Not all gas stations are open 24 hours – research ahead for gas station hours

Shell Gas Station at Night - Credit: Erik Mclean from Unsplash
Shell Gas Station at Night – Credit: Erik Mclean from Unsplash

If you’re like me and you’re from a fairly large city, it came as a surprise that gas stations are not always open 24 hours a day. Thankfully I found out while researching for one of my road trips and was able to plan accordingly.

For those of you who may not be aware, many gas stations in more rural areas are actually closed for the night. The number of sales they get at night is not worth the electricity and maintenance needed to keep the station active.

So when you’re mapping out your road trip and looking for rest stops and gas stations, plan to hit a gas station 2 hours before it closes (in case of delays on your trip) AND if you’ve read our first article, fill up your jerry can at the gas station before your last one for the night to be extra safe.

General advice for road trip safety summary

Phew! We made it! There’s sure to be many other road trip safety advice out there but these were a few that really stuck out to me when I embarked my first few road trips including our drive from Toronto to Chicago. To summarize some of the things we learned in today’s post:

  1. Identify crankiness triggers and manage them ahead of time. Setting ground rules in advance can help reduce conflicts
  2. Prioritize the driver’s needs and preferences first for a smoother and safer ride
  3. Plan frequent stops for rest breaks and food breaks
  4. Reduce the hours driven at night
  5. If you must drive at night, drive slower at night to avoid wildlife collisions
  6. High beams while useful, can be blinding, and there are different ways to help manage and make everyone’s night driving more enjoyable
  7. Gas stations are not open 24 hours in rural regions

Do you have any other key road trip safety advice for others? Let us know in the comments below!

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