The days are long, the weather's warm, the sky is blue . . . it's summer and we're ready to enjoy the great American pastime - road trips!
We want to get to wherever we're going safely - and healthily, too. A safe trip is ensured by following the rules of the road and practicing good driving habits. A healthy trip is ensured by bringing along snacks that fill us with fuel and are packed with healthful nutrients.
And a fun trip is ensured by keeping the kids entertained with plenty of music, games, and electronic gadgets.
Being a safe driver consists of continuously practicing many small habits.1,2 Keeping your eyes on the road is a given. When you need to check how the kids are doing in the back seat, just flick your eyes to the rear-view mirror. Don't turn your head around - instead, make eye contact with them in the mirror. Your kids can read your eyes pretty well - they don't need to see your face to know what you want them to do.
Keep checking the traffic around you. Use all three mirrors to see what's going on - who's behind you and who's on your right and left. Always make sure you have enough space to stop short or make a quick lane change if needed. If you're boxed in, all you can do when confronted with an obstacle is crash.
Maintain a minimum safe distance (MSD) from the car in front of you. The MSD between two cars traveling at 65 MPH on the freeway is three seconds. Find a landmark and start counting as the car in front of you passes it. If you reach it in less than three seconds there's not enough space between you and the first car.
And of course, only use a hands-free cell phone.
What about food? On longer trips, good snacks are key - for both the adults and the kids.
Kids want to eat chips, cookies, and candy.3 The best we can do is bring along more nutritious alternatives as well and encourage our kids to mix and match. Energy bars combining 20 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrate are terrific. These chocolate-coated complete small meals have only 5 grams of fat and 300 calories. Juices without sugar additives provide energy and vitamins. Bananas, apples, carrots, and celery can be sliced and carried in plastic bags for no-mess access.
Bring plenty of water. Drinking enough water keeps everyone alert and focused. This is particularly important for the driver, as well as the passengers. Drinking enough water is a subtle way to keep everyone's spirits up, ensuring a happy, fun trip.
Road trips help families bond and create life-long memories. A little preparation goes a long way toward making these family outings safe and fun!
1Verschuur WL, Hurts K: Modeling safe and unsafe driving behaviour. Accid Anal Rev 40(2):644-656, 2008
2Donmez B, et al: Mitigating driver distractions with retrospective and concurrent feedback. Accid Anal Prev 40(2):776-786, 2008
3Contento IR, et al: Enhancing personal agency and competence in eating and moving. Formative evaluation of a middle school curriculum. J Nutr Educ Behav 39(5 Suppl):S179-S186, 2007