published Friday, December 20th, 2013

Biz Bulletin: Tips for staying safe on long holiday trips

By Jim Winsett

Q: I'm planning take a road trip with my family to visit relatives in Texas for Christmas. Does the BBB have tips on traveling for the holidays?

A: The holidays are a time of cheer, but they can also be a time for battling traffic and bad weather on the road. Staying safe should be a top priority for all travelers and their families. Better Business Bureau recommends taking a few precautions when hitting the road this holiday.

Give your car the inspection and attention that it may need. Make sure you are well equipped with tools and know where to turn should the unexpected happen.

BBB recommends taking the following steps for safe driving this holiday season:

1. Create a car safety kit. Holiday driving often includes the threat of dangerous winter weather. Snow and ice lead to accidents, car troubles, long delays and road closures. You can prepare for bad weather by creating your own safety kit. Basics for the kit include blankets, flash-light with extra batteries, radio, first aid kit, jumper cables, non-perishable foods like granola bars and nuts, bottled water (enough for the whole family to hold over for at least two days), any prescription medicine needed, an ice scraper and warm gloves.

2. Take the car in for a checkup. Breaking down on the side of the road can definitely put a damper on the holiday spirit. If your car is due for a checkup, take it in before making that long haul. At the very least, check the car's fluid levels, wipers and tire pressure. Check the condition of your tires and, if you plan on driving through serious winter weather, consider getting snow tires.

3. Take BBB with you. When you're away from home or in the midst of an emergency, it's hard to know which businesses, such as tow trucks and locksmiths you can trust. The good news is you can now rely on the BBB mobilized website www.bbb.org for finding businesses you can trust when you are away from your computer.

4. Start early and slow down. The best way to fight holiday traffic is to give yourself some extra time to make the trip, and do not speed. Speeding leads to accidents, which slows traffic and cause bottlenecks. It uses more of the fuel in a shorter amount of time, which makes you have to spend more on gas, and stop more often. Also, if you are caught speeding by law enforcement, that adds travel time and puts a dent in your holiday spending.

5. Drop the distractions. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. When you're behind the wheel, don't text and drive, use a hands-free headset when talking on the phone, and get someone else to fumble with the GPS. Also, keep in mind that many states now have laws that ban hand-held cell phone talking and texting while driving. Either way, your best bet is to play it safe and designate a co-pilot to handle your communication while you drive. For a list and maps on which states are affected see, http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/cellphonelaws/.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.

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