Pack Your Bags! 7 Tips to Hit the Road Safely This Holiday Season

You know the old saying: “Getting there is half the fun?” Whoever came up with that one never drove a beat-up clunker across the American Southwest in August. Or the Great Plains during a blinding blizzard, for that matter.

If you’re hitting the road for the holidays, the “fun” part can wait. All you want to do is get there—safe, sound and, especially if you have young kids, reasonably sane. So here’s another saying you might want to think about: Getting there is half the battle. That includes knowing the dos and don’ts about packing your car.

You might be thinking that packing a car is simple, but doing so correctly can be a lifesaver if you get in an accident or find yourself stranded in a storm. For example, did you know that you need to secure objects, even something as small as a snack can (or fruitcake!), which can become dangerous projectiles in a crash? According to Safety Research and Strategies, ordinary objects in cars and trucks are responsible for 13,000 injuries each year.

Packing is a safety practice that’s often overlooked, especially during the holidays when starting a road trip is like a cattle drive. Everyone with kids knows the drill (cue opening theme song for “Rawhide”): Round ‘em up, pack ‘em in, move ‘em out! But as the Duke might have said, “Whoa there, pardner.” Before you and your brood hop along to visit Grandma, take a little time to make sure you’ve packed your wagon to be trail-ready.

Clean out the car and trunk. Unload the junk and leave it at home. The more space in your trunk or cargo area, the less you’ll need to store luggage in the passenger area where it can cause injuries.

Keep loose items out of the passenger compartment. There are three options: Strap it down, put it away or toss it. Use the glove compartment and consoles to store personal items, such as cell phones, sunglasses, games, etc. Booster seats should be placed in the trunk when not in use.

Have a packing strategy. Start by packing as much as you can in the truck or cargo area, where items are less likely to become projectiles in the event of an accident. If you have a cargo area, use nets, anchors and tethers to secure your items. Pack larger and heavier items centered on the bottom and placed forward against fixed components. This position will prevent them from building forward momentum in a crash.

Take only what you need. Again, less luggage means more space to put it where it belongs—in the trunk or cargo area. If you have a lot of stuff, check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re not overloading the vehicle. Consumer Reports says that the weight limit in a small SUV can range from under 700 pounds to over 1,100 pounds, so don’t try to guess.

Get a tight fit. Think of your trunk or cargo area as a jigsaw puzzle. Put the biggest item in first, and place smaller items around it. Take your time and work the angles.

Avoid loading up your roof. This can make your vehicle top-heavy and unstable. Plus, it will hurt your gas mileage!

Don’t forget emergency gear. Your emergency winter kit can include blankets; warm clothing; sand, cat litter or traction mats; a small shovel; a flashlight with fresh batteries; warning flares or triangles; drinking water; and anything else you might need in case you get stranded.

Packing isn’t much fun. But when you do it right, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping to protect your car’s passengers—a good feeling at any time of the year!

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