For Release December 26, 2004

Travel Safely During the Holidays

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Now that Christmas is behind us, we can gear up for the big holiday celebration, New Year's Eve. Christmas tends to be a quieter calmer celebration with family. But New Year's Eve is a party holiday. And we all know what often occurs with party holidays! To top it off, it is winter and winter weather can add its own special problems and challenges. So let's take a few minutes to refresh ourselves on the safe travel requirements of holidays and winter!

Always drive sober! All it takes is a slight reduction in your normal reaction speed and you can have a catastrophe before you know it. Then add to that the reality that holiday travelers are often stressed and tired, and you have a double whammy. It isn't worth the risk, so don't take it.

Wear your seat belt! From the time I started driving I have worn my seat belt. It doesn't feel right to not wear it. Your vehicle offers a great deal of protection, but only if you stay in it! Sure, your air bag offers some protection, but it won't keep you in the car in case of a rollover accident. Just start wearing it, you'll get used to it sooner than you think!

Drive prepared. That means that you don't let your gas tank drop below half full. You have extra blankets, gloves, coats in the car and other cold weather emergency survival gear. If you don't know what all that is, call me. If it becomes snowy or icy, just don't travel unless it is an emergency. IF you do travel under these conditions, do so expecting to be stranded someplace, because it could happen. Even if you are just driving across town, always be dressed for the weather. During the recent cold snap I couldn't believe the number of people I saw wearing shorts, shoes with no socks, no coats... well, you get the picture! Cold can be a sneaky killer. Don't think your car will always protect you.

Be alert to weather and road conditions. In today's instant information society, there is no excuse for not knowing a weather forecast or road conditions. As you are traveling, recognize deteriorating road conditions due to snow, ice, cold and wind. Reduce speed, increase separation distances between you and other vehicles, and always drive like there's an egg under your foot. No sudden moves, no hard stops or acceleration. That's the quickest way to leave the road!

Many of today's vehicles are front wheel drive, four wheel drive or large. These larger vehicles often leave you feeling isolated from the road and somewhat protected. The front wheel drive and four wheel drive vehicles often have an easier go of it in snow and ice, but they will leave you with a false sense of security. You begin to feel immune to the weather around you. Then your attention wanders and you've got a problem.

I drive a small car. I don't have that false sense of security. The truth is that if my compact car and that SUV both lose traction, the only difference is that I'm in a 2,800 pound toboggan and they're in a 5,000 pound toboggan. Just because you can start on slick roads easier with these vehicles, it doesn't change the laws of physics. It is still going to take longer to stop.

Don't drive aggressively. Drive respectfully, drive cautiously, take longer to accelerate and longer to decelerate. Let your engine do more of the braking and use your brakes less. Not only will it keep you safer, you'll get better gas mileage. There's going to be a lot of us on the road for another ten days, so let's all be careful out there!


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