• Oct 22nd 2010 at 12:00AM
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With many families taking to the roads over the holiday... With many families taking to the roads over the holidays, it's important to follow these few tips to ensure that everyone stays safe (Alamy).

The season of driving over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house is upon us. Addressing three aspects of driving will help make holiday trips -- or any trip -- safer and more comfortable.

Holidays are times of good cheer and family road trips. They are also some of the most dangerous times to be on the road. According to a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), drivers are significantly more likely to be involved in accidents on three upcoming holidays. In order of increasing driving danger, Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve are statistically risky times to be on the road.

In addition to holiday jeopardies, drivers have much to consider as fall transitions to winter. Fewer hours of daylight, cooler weather, and increased precipitation present challenges, especially when they all hit at once.

Prepare Your Passengers

Aside from making sure everyone's gone to the bathroom, here are some things to remember before setting out on your next family journey.

1. Obey all state and local laws regarding seat-belt usage and distracted driving. Seat belts have been proven lifesavers for decades, yet there are still some drivers who do not wear them consistently. Distracted driving is dangerous enough when you’re alone, so refrain from using your mobile phone while driving.

2. If your children are still required to ride in safety seats or boosters, make they're riding in the proper seat type, and be sure those seats are properly installed. The site www.safercar.gov walks you though the kid-seat matching process. If you have questions about their installation, Safer Car also has information on registered locations where a trained technician can check your car-to-car-seat hook-up skills. The site also lets you check whether your car seat has been recalled, an important thing to know.

3. On longer trips, bring activities that keep children content. Hand-held video games, audio books, mobile DVD players, car-friendly snacks, and even something as simple as a coloring book and crayons can make a huge difference in how many times a driver hears, "Are we there, yet?"

4. For those passengers prone to motion sickness, there are alternatives to over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Candied ginger can help prevent queasy stomachs, as can purpose-designed wristbands with integrated beads. When passengers are happy and comfortable, they demand less from a driver who needs be focused on driving.

Prepare Your Vehicle

If you want to avoid accidents, your chances are better if you can see them coming.

1. The key to visibility includes clean glass, especially the windshield. Cleaning the outside is easy. Hit the windshield with a traditional glass cleaner, and wipe things clean with a microfiber towel or a newspaper to eliminate lint. Wipe-on windshield coatings that make the glass shed water improve visibility when the rain falls, as well.

2. Even though it's not exposed to the elements, the glass inside your vehicle also gets dirty. Glass cleaners and microfiber towels work well, as do convenient glass-cleaning wipes. Both cut the film that clouds your vision.

3. If your windshield wipers are more than a year old, replace them. And be sure to fill one or both of your vehicle's washer fluid reservoirs (some vehicles have separate containers for the rear window).

4. Check your headlights to make sure they're illuminating. If the bulbs are more than three years old, consider replacing them. New halogen bulbs are significantly brighter than older bulbs, improving nighttime vision. Additionally, new do-it-yourself products are available to polish and clean headlight lenses, making sure the light produced makes it out onto the road.

5. While its not related to visibility, tires are also important to safe driving. Keeping tires properly inflated improves fuel economy and optimizes vehicle performance. When checking pressures, also check the tread depth to make sure the tires are safe.

Clean Out The Clutter

Think about how your vehicle's interior might fare in an accident. Do you have anything rolling around in the back seat that could be dangerous in a rollover or a crash?

1. Pitch empty bottles, cups, CD cases, trash and anything else that isn't essential to driving. Items can get jammed under pedals in an accident.

2. Clear off the dashboard and the rear package shelf. This improves visibility, but more importantly, it eliminates potentially perilous projectiles. Anything left unsecured could become a dangerous flying object during evasive maneuvers or collisions.

3. Secure everything you choose to leave inside: Sunglasses, cell phones, PDAs, DVD players, MP3 players, navigation devices, etc. Doing this helps reduce distractions that can pull a driver's attention away from the road ahead.

Prepare Yourself

Today's vehicles do a better job of protecting their occupants than ever before. As good as modern vehicles are, the driver is still the key to safety on the road.

1. Here's something to think about after a high-calorie Thanksgiving dinner rich in sleep-inducing tryptophan: Driving while over-tired or exhausted is risky. Sleepy drivers react more slowly. Although not illegal like drunk driving, tired driving puts drivers, their passengers and other motorists in danger.

2. Additionally, auto racers know that a proper seating position is key to safety at any speed. Seating position impacts outward visibility and the control a driver can exert on the vehicle.

3. While driving from a reclined position might look cool, it dramatically reduces a driver's vision close to his vehicle. Driving with arms and legs outstretched also forces drivers to use "dumber" large-motor muscles to turn the steering wheel and operate the accelerator and brake pedals. When a driver sits closer to the wheel, he uses "smarter" small motor muscles that enable more precise control that is critical to avoiding accidents.

Now you have an idea of how to prepare your car for safety. If you're in the market for an even safer car, browse the table below for top safety picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Top Safety Picks 2010 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Buick LaCrosse
Ford Taurus
Hyundai Genesis (built after 1/2010)
Lincoln MKS
Mercedes E class (built after 1/2010)
Volvo S80

Honda Civic (4-door (except Si) with optional ESC)
Kia Forte (built after 10/2009)
Kia Soul
Nissan Cube
Scion xB
Subaru Impreza (except WRX)
Toyota Corolla
VW Golf (4-door)

Audi A3
Chevrolet Malibu (built after 11/2009)
Chrysler Sebring (4-door w/optional ESC)
Dodge Avenger (with optional ESC)
Hyundai Sonata (2011 models)
Mercedes C class
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Volkswagen Jetta (sedan)
Volkswagen Passat (sedan)
Volvo C30 (2010-11 models)
Dodge Journey
Subaru Tribeca
Volvo XC60
Volvo XC90

Honda Element
Jeep Patriot (w/optional side torso airbags)
Subaru Forester
Volkswagen Tiguan

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