By Michael Phelan
Published: Thursday, December 16, 2021
Work’s all done for the year, school’s out for summer, the weather’s set to warm up and, for many, that means one thing: road trip!
Hit the brakes, though. Before you pack up, pile into the car and hit the highway looking for adventure, there are a few things to think about.
RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain says there are increased risks on the roads during the holiday season.
“Factors like congestion, driver fatigue, increased traffic and people driving in unfamiliar territory can all make driving more dangerous,” Mr Mountain says.
“More fatalities and accidents happen around Christmas than any other time of the year – and a lot are preventable.”
With that in mind, here’s some handy advice to consider before backing out of the driveway.
1. Car Check
Oil – check! Coolant topped up – check! Windscreen washer fluid full – check! Tyres, lights, brake fluid – check, check, check! Regular basic maintenance keeps your vehicle in tip-top shape. However, it’s even more important before heading off on a road trip.
Pop the bonnet and visually check the engine, running a careful eye over belts and hoses, looking for any fluid leaks. Generally, if something doesn’t look right, it isn’t, so get it checked out by a professional.
Take your car in for a service to make sure everything is running smoothly for long trips. RAA Approved Repairers will be able to pick up on any minor faults. The absolute last thing you want is to break down in the middle of nowhere (or anywhere, for that matter) on a 40 degree day when a little pre-trip attention could have prevented this.
2. Be prepared
The Scout motto applies to road trip prep, too. You want to be ready for any ‘what if’ scenarios. Keep a torch, gloves, old towel and rags, basic tool kit and two litres of water in your vehicle. Likewise, make sure you pack a well-stocked first-aid kit, and maybe a fire extinguisher just in case.
Getting a flat tyre is an inconvenience. They’re even more painful when you’ve got things to see and do. So have a spare tyre that’s pumped up a jack and the correct wheel brace for your car.
If your vehicle has special wheel nuts that require an adaptor make sure you have this as well. Despite what many people think, it’s not a legal requirement to have a spare in your car. However, if you do, it must be roadworthy. That is a legal requirement.
Fingers crossed, you won’t have to call RAA Road Service for help, but if you do, make sure your RAA membership is up to date. Maybe even consider an upgrade for better coverage.
3. Pack properly
There are two parts to this advice.
Part one: Collect everything you need and put it in a pile. Clothes, camping gear, screen devices, bikes, boogie boards, and the rest. Check, double-check, triple-check, then put a stamp on top. This way, you won’t get that sinking feeling that you’ve left something behind.
Don’t forget the kids! If using a child restraint, make sure it is adjusted for the child and the seatbelt is attached and firm. No luggage should interfere with the top tether.
Part two: Pack the car. Firstly, remove anything from the pile that you don’t need. It’s just taking up prime luggage real estate.
Now, how are your Tetris skills? Trying to fit everything in your boot can be an absolute nightmare of a puzzle. Make sure you don’t stack items too high as they could obscure your rear vision.
Be careful with roof-racks. Placing heavy items on top heightens the car’s centre of gravity and can affect how it handles corners and in strong crosswinds. Keep it light and pack items as low as possible. Remember to always adhere to load ratings specified by the roof rack and vehicle manufacturer.
Safely secure items with proper tie-down straps or covers. If anything comes loose, your car could suddenly turn into a mobile rocket launcher firing luggage missiles at unsuspecting motorists.
Better yet, store large, heavy items in the boot. However, make sure a cargo barrier is securely in place. This will protect passengers in a crash where luggage is dislodged and can potentially cause injury.
4. Secure pets
Pets are part of the family, so of course, you’d love to bring them with you. First and foremost, are they healthy enough to travel? If so, great! If not, you should probably leave them in trusted care.
A car zoo really isn’t a good idea. It’s important to keep your pets secured, for their safety and yours. An unrestrained pet, whether it’s a cat, dog, bird, guinea pig or frill-necked lizard, could be a major distraction in the car and cause a crash. Driving without having proper control of vehicle is an offence that could land you a $201 fine plus $92 Victims of Crime Levy.
Restraints help keep everyone safe. A purpose-built harness attached to the seatbelt is your best bet. Pet hammocks for the back seat are options for smaller animals. You might not need a restraint if you drive an SUV or 4WD and have a cargo barrier installed, as your pets can enjoy the ride from the boot space. Remember to pack some water and a few snacks for them as well for those longer trips.
Finally, a friendly reminder to never leave pets unattended in vehicles, particularly when it’s hot.
5. Plan ahead
Life is a highway. Sure, it’s tempting to just pack up and hit the wide-open road. However, it’s a good idea to at least do a little bit of planning.
Thankfully, the days of unfolding a giant paper map and playing navigator are long gone. Google Maps and GPS will help plan your route. Download a travel app if you’re tech-savvy. At the same time, work out the safest – not the fastest – route to your destination. You’re on holiday so remember, it’s not a race.
Snooze, you lose – your life. Not to sound dramatic, but driver fatigue is a serious issue and a major cause of road crashes. It’s really important to pull over and take regular breaks- aim for a break after no more than 2 hours of continuous driving. Share the driving duties to ease the burden. If you’re travelling long distances, it might pay to stop off at a hotel, motel or caravan park on the way. Get a good night’s rest, then continue your journey bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning.
6. Fun stuff
Are we there yet? The best way to avoid this dreaded question is to keep everyone entertained. Music is essential, so get the party started with playlists of everyone’s favourite tunes. Themed playlists might be fun – did someone say ‘all-time greatest one hit wonders.’
Old-school car games are another great way to break up the monotony of a long drive. Go head-to-head with your fellow travellers, playing classics like I Spy, 20 Questions and Counting Cows.
Some pencils and a sketch pad for the kids could go a long way, or bring some books to read or something to watch on your device.
Snacks are important. Stock up on food and drink to keep hunger at bay and stay hydrated. As a bonus, you’ll save money by not having to stop off all the time for a bite to eat – that’s if you can resist one of the umpteen delicious bakeries on the way.