If you’ve been out on the roads recently, you know that some drivers are taking advantage of the lighter traffic (due to more people working from home) and are regularly speeding well above the posted limits. Accounts of reckless and aggressive driving are soaring across the United States, too, including in Colorado.

I vividly remember one road trip where my family and I were driving up Colorado Highway 285 for a weekend getaway. I recall everyone feeling so excited to hit the mountains and spend some quality time together. Then, out of the blue, a maniac came flying by us on the left, crossing a double yellow line, going at least 20 miles over the speed limit, weaving back and forth around traffic. Not only did that guy risk his own life, he risked the lives of everyone on the road with him.

With so many Colorado families swapping their destination vacations for local adventures this summer, there will be more of us out on the roads with our families. More reckless drivers to watch out for means a greater need for driver safety practices and awareness.

One impatient pass on a blind turn and you’re a headline.

Sadly, in Colorado, we see head-on collisions on mountain roads all the time because of reckless drivers. They get upset about the traffic and think that they can gain time (and “beat” other people) by passing unsafely.

It may seem morbid, but I suggest that, before you get in your car and head out on a family road trip, you think about whether you want to arrive safely at your destination or you want to be the Denver Post’s next awful headline: “Entire family killed by head-on collision.”

Yes, I’m serious. One impatient pass on a blind turn and you’re a headline. I certainly never risk that with my family, which is exactly why I take on safe driving practices when driving with my family – and when driving by myself. And I will be even more on guard this summer.

Remember who you have in your car.

Toward that end, I thought I would share 5 safe driving tips to help you stay safe during your family road trip this summer:

  1. Stay calm: Stop thinking about the traffic and start thinking about the fun you’ll have when you arrive. Truly, you will not gain more than a couple of minutes by pressing the gas hard and weaving in and out of traffic. There is simply no point in getting steamed up. (And you’re probably annoying your family.)
  2. Get plenty of sleep: Get your rest before a long day of driving. When your senses are all firing properly, you drive better.
  3. Take breaks: I know the temptation of getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, but it’s important to take breaks when you’re on a long road trip. If you don’t need gas (and you find truck stops gross or depressing), stop at the next “Point of Interest.” Get out, stretch, play a short game of catch with the kids to get your muscles moving. You will ALL travel better afterward.
  4. Go with the flow: So, you hit traffic. So what? Just sit back and remember that you’re just one of the people trying to get someplace else. You’re not so special that you need to get ahead of the others. Your destination will still be there if you’re 15, 30 or 60 minutes late. Also, if the traffic is bad and unpredictable, give yourself 10 car lengths between your car and the car ahead.
  5. Remember who you have in your car: Finally, look next to you and in the rearview mirror before speeding up and making any risky moves. Is the risk worth it? Not a chance.

Bonus Safe Driving Tip: Is Your Car Ready for a Road Trip?

Now that you’re mentally prepared for the road trip, it’s time to make sure that your car is prepared, too. If you look at an atlas (I still love paper maps!) and see long stretches of desert or mountain passes or any uncivilized regions in your path, imagine yourself stuck there. Chances are good that you also won’t have cell phone coverage in some of these areas. With that in mind, you’d better make sure your car is ready to carry you all the way to your destination. Here are some items to check:

  • Brake pads: If your brakes are new, you’re probably fine. But if you haven’t had them checked in a while, it’s worth asking your favorite maintenance professional to have a look. Rule of thumb: depending on what kind of brake pads you have and what kind of driver you are, they can last anywhere from 25,000 to 70,000 miles.
  • Air filters: Air filters keep bugs and other gunk out of your engine, and you will likely hit a lot of bugs on a road trip. (I drove through Nebraska once and it was like my car had a bug-bra when I got to my destination!) Most of us have these checked when we have our oil changed, and filters can last about 12,000 miles.
  • Light bulbs: Check all your exterior lights to make sure they’re functioning properly. Also make sure your dome lights are working. If you have to pull over at night, you’ll want to be able to see inside the car.
  • Belts and hoses: This is actually something you can do yourself if you’re willing to pop open the hood and hunt around a little. Check your belts for cracking and slack. Also check hoses to see if you find any leaking. If you don’t want to do this yourself, take it to a mechanic.
  • Tires: The condition of your tires can impact your fuel efficiency, not to mention your family’s safety. I took a road trip a few summers ago when gas was $4 per gallon. Let me tell you, I was trying to make every mile possible out of those gallons. I made sure my tires were healthy, rotated properly and filled up. And don’t forget to check the spare.
  • Check all your fluids: Make sure you check your oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and windshield fluid. An appointment for general maintenance on your vehicle will cover all of these areas. Also, purchase a gallon of wiper fluid and keep it in your car just in case. (Note my bug story above!)

I also recommend that you pack an emergency road kit. Check out the “how to” article I wrote about car emergency kits.

I hope you have a safe road trip this summer!