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Tips For Driving Home For The Holidays

Thinking of hitting the road for holiday travel instead of flying? You won't be alone. AAA predicts that 87 percent of people who travel for the holiday will drive—a record high, topping 83 percent last year. If AAA is right, the nation's highways will be very busy this holiday season; therefore, it's essential to plan ahead. Thankfully, several websites are making road-trip planning easier.

Is Your Car Ready?

Is your vehicle winter-ready? If you're traveling to a colder, snowy climate, have you checked the tread on your tires? When was the last time you checked the antifreeze in your radiator? Is the windshield-washer reservoir full? Will your car's heater and defroster clear icy or fogged windows? CarTalk.com has a complete checklist for long car trips. In addition, they offer winter driving tips.

What to Bring

Do you have everything you need? Not only gifts, suitcases, and snacks for the trip, but also safety gear, considering climate changes? Here are a few things to bring:

  • Car jack for changing tires.
  • Spare tire filled with air.
  • Jumper cables.
  • Shovel, snow brush, and ice scraper.
  • Emergency breakdown kit with flares or reflective devices.
  • Flashlight and batteries.
  • Abrasive material (such as sand, salt, or kitty litter) to use for traction.
  • A cell phone, if you have one, just in case.
  • Blanket.
Also, before taking off, make sure that each passenger is properly buckled up—either in a seat belt or in a size-appropriate child restraint.

For more car travel lists, visit AAA online.

Plot Your Course

With today's free online-mapping programs, you are going to have to think of all sorts of new excuses for being late at the in-laws. Virtually every square inch of the globe has been mapped, and is now more navigable than ever.

MapQuest is the most extensive, accurate, and convenient online map service. Although not 100 percent reliable, MapQuest offers rather accurate graphical maps and traffic reports that can serve as excellent travel guidelines. Furthermore, it offers restaurant and hotel information, and relevant e-coupon to use along the way. An exceptional service that MapQuest offers is the option to e-mail or fax directions to a friend, or even to download them to a PDA. Other mapping sites worth checking out are Delorme CyberRouter, MapBlast, and Rand McNally.

When you plan your route, become familiar with maps or directions, and always let others know your route and planned arrival time. Others might know better travel routes once you're off the highway.

Weather Conditions

For the latest weather on the open-road, Weather.com offers a selection of driving maps, which spotlight fog, wind, or precipitation forecasts. Users can find up-to-date weather reports for nearly every city. Weather.com is also accessible through wireless Internet devices such as cell phones and PDAs.

Gas Smarts

Do you have enough gas in your tank to get you through a lot of slow-moving traffic? It is better to refuel often and have enough than to risk getting stuck in wintry conditions with only a few drops in the tank.

To save money on gas along the way, check out GasPriceWatch.com, which lists the most economical gas stations to fill up along your preferred route.

Know Your Brakes

There is a difference in the way that regular brakes and antilock brake systems (ABS) work and need to be used. A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that many drivers don't know how to use ABS systems to reduce accidents.

Before the development of ABS, drivers were taught to "pump" their brakes, especially on slippery roads. ABS does this pumping for you and uses electronic controls to maintain wheel rotation under hard braking that would otherwise lock a vehicle's wheels. Familiarize yourself with the braking systems of the vehicles you drive beforehand, just in case you need to make a quick stop. For more information on ABS, check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.

Watch Out for Illegal Cell Phone Usage

How many times have you chatted on your cell phone while driving? Most of us don't even think twice about it, but be forewarned that it's now illegal to do so in one state and in many towns across the U.S. On November 1, New York became the first state to ban hand-held cell phones. The law makes it illegal for a driver to use a hand-held cell phone while in the car. First-time offenders of the new law could face a $100 fine. To avoid getting pulled over, attach an earpiece or other hands-free attachment to your cell phone for car usage. The law permits people to make 911 calls, and to dial and answer regular calls while driving. At least a dozen localities have established bans, initiated in 1999 by Brooklyn, OH, and followed by Carteret, NJ, the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, and next year Florida's Dade County.

Other Neat Stuff

Speed Trap Warnings: One site to check out before hitting the road is Speedtrap.com. This site advises users on potential law enforcement speed traps, traffic slowdowns, traffic hazards, and other information to help save time on the road.

Toilet finder: When nature calls, even bold travelers prefer hospitable surroundings. The Bathroom Diaries.com locates clean, free restrooms worldwide with comments and rankings from users.

Swap Audio Books on the Road: Stories on tape will eat up hours on the road. You can find books on tape at most bookstores nationwide. Cracker Barrel restaurants will refund the purchase price upon return of the book minus $3 for each week you've had it.

Avoid Gotta-get-there-itis

As much as we all wish to spend the holidays with our loved ones, sometimes it is just too dangerous to drive. Leave early and allow extra time, and if you run into bad weather, stop or slow down! It is better to spend the night safely in a hotel and arrive a few hours late than to risk not getting there at all.


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