Families are reevaluating if and how they travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. To be clear, staying at home is the best way to avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (In fact, the CDC recently recommended against traveling at all during the Thanksgiving holiday at a press briefing.)
Taking a family road trip may be appealing once the CDC says traveling is safer. Any form of travel poses risks for the foreseeable future (the coronavirus likely won’t go away soon), but road trips allow you to avoid crowded public spaces like airports. After all, you only need to be in close contact with anyone else in the car with you, and you have more control over when and where you stop. When it comes to avoiding COVID-19, “The safest travel option is not to travel. If you do travel, a road trip is the safest,” epidemiologist Celine Gounder, M.D., former NYC assistant commissioner of health and host of the Epidemic podcast, previously told SELF.
However, a family road trip comes with its own safety hazards, and you may be concerned about traveling for long periods of time with your kids. But there are ways to reduce some of the risks (and to ultimately lower your stress levels). Below, you’ll find tips to get you through any long drive.
1. Prepare your car.
This may be a given, but your car should be in good working condition before any family road trip. Not to mention, you will feel more overwhelmed if you need to stop and, say, repair a flat tire with tired or fussy children in the car. To avoid car troubles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that your car is up-to-date on its oil change, battery check, and tire rotation. Less obviously, you should check your car’s make and model for safety recalls and address any related issues before the trip. You can check this on the NHTSA website. All you need is your vehicle identification number (VIN), which is generally located on the lower left of your car’s windshield. (You can also find it on your vehicle registration or car insurance cards.) Research the weather conditions for areas that you will travel through so you can purchase snow chains, new tires, or a snow brush if necessary.
2. Be prepared for inclement weather.
Speaking of snow, there’s nothing like an unexpected storm to cause some major stress while you’re driving (understandably). No one can accurately predict the weather, but looking up typical weather patterns for the area you’re traveling to can give you an idea of what to expect. This way you will be mentally prepared and have a backup plan in the event you need to stop. The National Weather Service offers future climate predictions as well as weather reports from previous years for the entire country.
Avoid rushing to your destination, particularly if weather conditions may affect your ability to maintain control of your vehicle. Roughly 21% of car accidents each year happen in adverse weather conditions, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Instead, stop at a parking lot or hotel if you aren’t comfortable driving. (Avoid pulling over to the shoulder, as other cars might not realize you’re stopped.) Or drive more slowly than the posted speed limit since slick roads can be dangerous. The United States Department of Transportation recommends reducing your speed by one third of the speed limit on wet roads and by at least one half of the legal limit on snow-packed roads.
3. Keep safety resources in your trunk.
It’s worth storing some emergency supplies in your trunk in case you experience car troubles. This may include a portable cell phone charger, flashlight, jumper cables, tire pressure gauge, extra windshield wiper fluid, blankets, and flares, according to the NHTSA. You may want to keep extra jackets (for the colder months), face masks, nonperishable food, and water too, in case you’re stopped for longer periods of time. And it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand just in case someone gets injured.
4. Get plenty of sleep before driving.
Fatigue is one of the most realistic dangers of driving for long periods of time. Drowsy driving caused 91,000 accidents in 2017, according to the NHTSA. In fact, the behavior is a lot like drunk driving: Driving after being awake for at least 18 hours is similar to driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%, according to the CDC. For reference, a BAC of 0.08% is considered intoxicated in all states.