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These few tips will help get you to your holiday vacati... These few tips will help get you to your holiday vacation destination as safely as possible (prayitno, Flickr).

It's Labor Day Weekend and summer driving season is coming to a close. But not before one last trip. With gas prices much lower this season than the summers of recent past, the annual family road-trip vacation could be making a comeback. But before you hit the highways, you will want to think about a few things to make your journey safer and more enjoyable.

1. Flashing lights are only fun in an amusement park.

There's no reason to risk a run-in with the gendarmes. Keep in mind that in some jurisdictions even a common speeding ticket can result in a lengthy delay -- or worse. Your out-of-state license could mean an immediate trip to traffic court with a bond payment required before you'll be let go. Speeding isn't the only sort of traffic citation cops write, so be doubly cautious. Some practices you might take for granted at home, like turning left from a one-way street to another one-way on a red light, can be illegal elsewhere. And again, your out-of-state plate makes you fresh meat for local ticket writers, including meter maids.

2. Get a free vehicle inspection.

The local Chrysler dealer sends me coupons in the mail almost weekly offering a free vehicle inspection for my minivan. My wife gets similar offers from the BMW shop. Why not take them up on their inspection offer? You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. If they identify potentially trip-interrupting issues, like loose tie rods or frayed drive belts, you can have them remedied before your departure. Just remember that you're not obligated to have any service performed then and there. Before you spend all your vacation money on repairs, you might want to get a second opinion, both to compare price and to determine how serious the problem really is.

Hitting the road for the holidays? Before you leave, check out these helpful links!

3. Change the oil? Buy new tires?

If you're going on a cross-country trip and you're 500 miles away from your next scheduled oil change, go ahead and get it done early. You'll probably get a better deal at home than trying to have the service performed on the road. Either choice is probably better than putting it off until you get return. Similar advice on the tires: If they're close to the end of their useful tread life, replace them. Nothing screws up a road trip more than getting in an accident, and having good tires improves handling and braking performance more than any other factor.

4. Set your tire pressure.

Yes, I probably could have included this in tip #3, but it's so important that it deserves its own bullet point. Most people are driving around on underinflated tires, sacrificing a mile (or in some conditions, more) per gallon in fuel economy. Inflate your tires to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer, and do it when the tires are cold. (Air pressure can increase by several pounds per square inch as the tires heat up.) Use a real tire pressure gauge, not the one built into the air hose. Besides maximizing fuel economy, correctly inflated tires will improve handling and are more resistant to punctures.

5. Plan your route.?

By whatever means necessary: GPS, AAA TripTik, MapqQuest, or good old-fashioned paper road atlas. But after you've picked out what appears to be the ideal route, spend a few more minutes researching summer road construction plans. There is a wealth of information available online, starting with each state's own department of transportation Web pages. Real-time traffic information can plot out backups and is provided for free by Web-based mapping services like MapQuest. There are also applications of this sort available for mobile devices, including GPS units and smart phones. Regardless of which method you use, the information is there for the taking and can help prevent wasting time in traffic.

6. Clean out your vehicle.

Perhaps this doesn't bear mentioning, but from the looks of my wife's car, everyone could use a little reminder. The last thing you need when setting out on a multi-state drive is a funky-smelling, cluttered car, so go ahead and drop it off at the local auto detailer – or just clean it yourself. It will get smelly enough with the entire family traveling in close confines soon enough, but you might as well begin the trip on a fresh note. While you're at it, take the ice scraper, the vintage road atlas, and the worthless socket set that's missing the drive wrench out of the trunk. Leave those useless items in the garage, along with anything else you don't really need, like that third row of minivan seats that serves no purpose other than 50 pounds of dead weight.

7. Slow down.

It's the best way to increase fuel economy, yet most drivers are reticent to sacrifice those precious few minutes they "save" by driving at or over the speed limit. I'm not going to turn this into a math-based lecture on lawbreaking, but in some cases slowing your rate of travel by 5-10 miles per hour can improve gas mileage by 5-10 percent. (Not to mention the potential safety implications of your reduced speed.) And if you're really worried about the effect that slower rate of travel will have on your drive time, try improving your time management skills. Forego a half-hour of sleep or fill up the tank while the rest of the family packs its suitcases. Remember, there's not a kid on earth who can't hurry it up a bit at the rest area.

8. Get off the Interstate.

If you'll permit a bit of editorializing, there is nothing that will increase the amount of fun you have on your next family vacation more than taking the back roads to wherever you're going. Yes, there will be complaining (isn't there always?) when you stop at a local diner for lunch and your brood is not served the same homogenous food found at every freeway exit. Yes, it will take longer to get there and you may find yourself driving into the wee hours of the night. Yes, you may be forced to stop at one of those hotels that's not part of a national chain and doesn't have a satisfied-or-it's-free policy. Yes, you will have to stop for directions and talk to people who talk funny or look at you funny or just plain are funny. But isn't that point of leaving home in the first place?



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 59 Comments
      celebrityl
      • 4 Months Ago
      I don't know what planet this writer is from ,but where is it legal to make a left turn thru a red light?
      Bob Davis
      • 4 Months Ago
      Oh and one more thing . . . If other vehicles are passing you on your right, YOU ARE TRAVELING TOO SLOWLY FOR THAT TRAFFIC LANE. MOVE OVER INTO THE RIGHT LANE(S)! By "hanging out" in the left lane(s) you are impeding the smooth flow of traffic and creating a dangerous situation for all other motorists around you by forcing others to make lane changes and maneuver around you on the right! Learn and practice proper lane discipline / courteousy!
      • 4 Months Ago
      Celebityl: It is true...at least in FL: If you are on a one way street and the light is red and you want to turn left on a one way street you can if traffic permits...
      Phil
      • 4 Months Ago
      In light of the BP Gulf oil disaster, I am not driving this weekend. No way am I going to be supporting an oil company on the 4th of July. I think its disgusting that so many Americans wont even think twice about the large amounts of petroleum products they will be using this weekend........................all the while wild life and and people suffer in the Gulf. Idiots hauling their RVs hundreds of mile so they can drink beer and roast a marshmallow. Stay home !
      silverngold543
      • 4 Months Ago
      There is NO fast lane! If the speed limit is 65- it's 65 in ALL of the lanes! I do agree about couresty on the road though, if your going slower then move over! And please do not tail gate! My biggest road complaint is a tail gater!!
      • 4 Months Ago
      This is a fundraiser for cities across America. City governments should just call it what it is. A way to raise money. Citizens are to blame because they very cowardly put up with every infringment of their rights the gov dishes out. In complete insult to the Declaration of Independence which we celebrate this weekend, they do nothing to change laws when the laws are unfair. They sit on their rears and "elect" others to do the thinking for them while they party. Then complain when absolute power corrupts those who are given it by the simpletons who actually think the power won't be abused. People do to you exactly what you train the to. "Assume the position of power and people will soon give it to you" is what a Rothschilds' once said. He was right. Happy Fourth!
      • 4 Months Ago
      ********** out from those rednecks that drive in NC those big trucks with big noise the W Bush Cowards full of tattoos bold that function with sweet tea or budlight and speak southern chinese . Empty brains walking with their eyes open clueless with big bones and fat bodies . The worst drivers in the world of furniture Tabacco and peanuts in addition to being most bustards just like beasts in the wild . Pretty state so as SC but weirdos live there , I wish if we can open more schools in the east coast .
      • 4 Months Ago
      where may I ask is tip # 4? You sucked me in again you ...................!
      • 4 Months Ago
      GOD BLLES YOU AMERICA
      • 4 Months Ago
      Theere is some interestint comments here but again if you want to drive 45 miles and hr. get to the right and let the traffic go. I live in Texas and when I learned to drive the lanes were marked SLOW TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT and the speed limit was marked on the road. I was in Germany and drove on the autobahn and if you drove in the left lane and didn't drive the limit you were going to be ticketed. There thought is you can drive as fast as you want as long as it is not reckless. Be Safe
      • 4 Months Ago
      When, oh, when are people going to learn that "your" and "you're" are NOT the same. I believe a large number of people did not pay attention in English class in FOURTH GRADE!
      Xhapytrkr
      • 4 Months Ago
      So I see I'm not the only person that's wondering what happened to 4&5
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