Taking a road trip seems like an obvious choice in terms of the safest way to travel during the coronavirus pandemic. (If you actually have to travel at all.) But spending hours—or days—driving can be mentally taxing. And automobile accidents are a very real concern. In fact, nearly 2 million people are injured in car accidents each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving caused 91,000 accidents in 2017, and nodding off while driving can happen more easily than you may think when you’re on the road for long periods of time.
That’s why you’ll want to find strategies to keep you alert and safe when driving. We tapped long-haul truck drivers for their best safety tips. After all, who’s more prepared than the people who regularly drive for hours on end? Here’s what they say you should know.
1. Plan your itinerary.
Everyone we talked to said the same thing: Mapping out the specifics of your road trip is the best way to eliminate stress and even avoid hazards when driving. Too many people simply plug their destination into Google Maps while driving without any idea about when and where they want to make pit stops, says Jo-Anne Phillips, 52, who has been driving trucks for more than 30 years.
“There’s nothing wrong with using GPS to give you an idea,” she tells SELF. The best way to prepare is by figuring out how long it will take you to get from Point A to Point B. Then, look for recreation areas, restrooms, and dining along the way so you never feel lost. You can easily do this by using Google Maps or the GPS system of your choice. Kellylynn McLaughlin, 56, recommends stopping at popular nationwide truck stops like Pilot Flying J because she finds that they’re often clean and well-stocked. “I stick to chains,” she says. Even though planning ahead is a great idea, Tracy Gaudette, 54, a professional truck driver of five years, says you shouldn’t feel unnecessarily restricted by your itinerary. “It doesn’t mean that you’re deadlocked into that,” she tells SELF.
2. Eat, sleep, and hydrate well.
Many people stay up late packing before a big trip, but “it’s important to be well-rested before you get behind the wheel,” says Phillips. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night (research shows that people 18 to 65 feel their best after getting that much rest).Then there’s the food aspect. Gaudette makes sure she eats a good meal before starting her drive. She prefers a protein-heavy breakfast, like an omelet, to help her feel more satisfied and alert. Phillips takes lots of fruit, salads, and already-grilled protein in a cooler on her road trips because those foods make her feel her best. She also says preparing food that can be kept in a cooler is particularly helpful for people who don’t want to stop and eat at restaurants due to COVID-19. Of course, you’ll want to find somewhere safe to enjoy your snacks and meals—like a rest stop or parking lot—since eating while driving is a distraction.Gaudette also drinks plenty of water throughout the trip, which yes, means more bathroom breaks. But stopping more often is better than experiencing headaches or dizziness associated with dehydration, which happens to Gaudette when she skimps on water.
3. Stop often.
You might try to drive to your destination with minimal pit stops. Resist the temptation. Every driver we spoke to said it was important to stop every two to three hours to stretch and go to the bathroom. “I try to stop about every 150 miles give or take,” Caron Comas, 54, a professional truck driver of 17 years, tells SELF. Gaudette says moving and getting her circulation going helps her stay alert during long drives. And of course, you’ll want to stop if you’re tired. Avoid pulling over onto the shoulder (other cars might not realize you’re stopped) and look for a parking lot or hotel room instead.
4. Scan your surroundings.
“I think the most difficult part is boredom or drowsiness. If you’re not used to it, it can really suck you in,” says Comas. Listening to audiobooks and checking the rearview and side mirrors are two ways she reduces the chances of zoning out.
McLaughlin constantly checks her surroundings to avoid getting the “staresies” and even makes it into a game. While keeping an eye on the road up ahead, she’s also looking for animals on the side of the road, monitoring her gauges, and scanning the mirrors.
5. Get to know road signs.
Understanding road signage is one of the best ways to boost your confidence about highway driving, says Barb Duncan, 53, a truck driver of 31 years. “If you train your eye to read the signs and know what the signs mean, then you can go down these roads confidently.” For example, construction signs have an orange background and will always trump other signage, she says. Yellow signs are always cautionary. You can check out the U.S. Department of Transportation for more information about road symbols and signs.
6. Make your car road-trip ready.
Ensure your car is well-maintained before taking any long trip. This includes up-to-date oil changes, recent battery checks, and tire rotations, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Go to a trusted place to have them look at your car. It would take a mechanic maybe 20 minutes to do a general overall check,” says Duncan. She also recommends keeping extra emergency supplies, including windshield washer fluid, motor oil, snow brush, and blankets in your trunk. If you’re driving a rental car, Duncan recommends getting acquainted with the vehicle in a parking lot so you feel comfortable operating that particular make and model.
7. Make room for trucks.
Chances are you’ll encounter large trucks when driving on your trip. Everyone says it’s important to allow plenty of following room when driving behind these massive machines. “Give us space. Don’t ride next to us—we can’t see you. Our blind spots are humongous,” says Comas. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, you shouldn’t be so close that you can read a truck’s license plate. Comas says you need to leave enough space so that you can see both of the truck’s side mirrors. And while you may be anxious to get in front of a slow-moving vehicle, never cut in front of large trucks. A truck traveling at highway speeds in regular conditions needs a distance of roughly two football fields to stop safely.
This article is presented by Volvo.