Review these important safety tips for drivers that may need to embark on a one-time long distance drive or are required to take long drives more often.
At some point, most drivers will have to take a long distance road trip that may take several hours or even multiple days to complete. Some drivers routinely drive long distances on a daily or weekly basis as part of their commute or work requirements.
The number one enemy of any long distance drive is fatigue. If you feel fatigued while driving it may help to pull over (safely), stretch, drink a cup of coffee (or caffeinated beverage), or even take a short nap before continuing. The effects of ‘taking a break to wake up’ are only temporary as the only cure for fatigue is sleep.
For any long drive, make sure you pack an emergency roadside kit. Chances are you’ll never need to use it, but just in case it will be good to have if something unexpected happens on the road. Also, bring along extra water and easy-to-eat snacks just in case you end up sitting in traffic longer than you anticipated.
Don’t forget to plan your driving entertainment ahead of time! Are you going to listen to podcasts, an audiobook, or the radio? Get everything ready to go so you don’t have to fumble with your cell phone while you are driving.
BEFORE EVERY LONG DRIVE
Plan ahead. Choose the safest route to avoid heavy traffic and work zones. Allow enough time to get to your destination without feeling anxious or stressed.
Check the forecast. Make sure you know ahead of time if bad weather will be a factor during the drive and ensure the vehicle is equipped for the journey.
Get enough sleep. Always begin every long drive well-rested. Get plenty of sleep, ideally for multiple nights in a row before the drive.
Know the vehicle. Take the time to adjust seats and mirrors. When renting or driving a fleet vehicle, become familiar with the controls and blind spots before hitting the road.
Get comfortable. Put your body into a correct and comfortable posture in the driver’s seat and adjust the seat and steering wheel as necessary. Ensure the rearview mirror and side mirrors are all adjusted properly to prevent neck strain.
Empty your pockets. Remove your wallet, cell phone, and other items from your back pocket when getting in the car to drive. The added pressure of something as small as a wallet can cause the low back, hips, and pelvis to be uneven, which can cause back pain over time while driving.
Buckle up. The NHTSA estimates that more than 15,000 lives are saved every year in the U.S. when drivers and passengers wear seat belts.
DURING EVERY LONG DRIVE
Stay alert. Avoid taking medication that may cause drowsiness. When signs of fatigue start, like frequent yawning or loss of concentration, pull over and take a driving break.
Drive defensively. Stay a safe distance from other vehicles on the road, obey the speed limit laws, and stay focused and alert when you are driving. Good defensive drivers anticipate other driver’s mistakes.
Slow down when needed. Pay attention so that you have enough time to slow down for safety. On long drives you may need to slow down for bad weather, work zones, traffic congestion, or debris in the road.
Drive safely. Scan the roadway for traffic and distant hazards, not just the vehicles in close proximity. Check mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes, turning, or merging.
Stay hydrated. Keep water in the car, along with some healthy snacks. Dehydration can cause headaches and a stomach with hunger pains can be distracting.
Remain visible. Take care to stay out of other drivers’ blind spots as much as possible. Use turn signals, turn on headlights at dusk or during rain, and ensure brake and taillights are operational.
AVOID EVERY LONG DRIVE
Impaired driving is dangerous. Do not get behind the wheel while impaired or intoxicated. Alcohol, drugs, and some medications can reduce a driver’s judgment and reaction time. Avoid driving if you are upset, tired, or sick.
Aggressive driving is never okay. Avoid speeding, tailgating, and frequent or unpredictable lane changes. Use turn signals, let others pass, and yield to vehicles trying to merge. Remain calm in traffic and don’t take other drivers’ actions personally. If you begin to feel stressed or angry while driving, pull over and take a break to decompress.
Limit distractions. Looking down at a cell phone, eating, grooming, or attempting to grab something out of reach are risky moves that can take your eyes off the road on long drives. Driving requires quick instincts and reactions so keep your eyes on the road.
Texting can wait! Make all calls or texts before you begin your drive and then turn on auto-responses on your cell phone to alert anyone who is texting you that you are driving and won’t be able to respond right away.
Fight fatigue. Avoid driving when your body is usually sleeping, or you typically have a dip in energy. For most people this will be between midnight and 6am, and in the early afternoon.
THROUGHOUT EVERY LONG DRIVE
Take rest breaks. Listen to your body and take a break when fatigue begins to set in. Park safely in a parking lot or rest area and get out of the vehicle to stretch and walk around. A recommendation is to take a break at least every 2 hours, or every 100 miles.
Adjust for ergonomics. Anyone who spends a lot of time driving may be at risk for experiencing aches and pains. To alleviate pressure points, you can make small adjustments in your posture while driving and make minor adjustments to the seat during rest breaks.
Plan your next stop. Even when your driving ergonomics are set up well for the drive, prolonged sitting, constrained postures, and the constant vibration of the vehicle can still cause stress on the body so plan ahead for next driving break.
Refuel before empty. On long drives, you never know when you might encounter unexpected traffic congestion, so don’t wait until it’s on empty to fill up. Plan ahead so you aren’t distracted and stressed trying to find the next gas station when it becomes urgent.
Clean up when you stop. Clutter can become a distraction to the driver when liquids spill or trash falls onto the floor and any distraction while driving can be deadly.