Who doesn’t love a road trip? Fill up the tank, make a playlist, stock up on snacks, and get ready for some chill hours behind the wheel. Bring a friend or three to keep you company. Plot a course that takes you past a few sights, whether they’re natural wonders or legendary BBQ joints. Nothing puts the saying “life is all about the journey, not the destination” into perspective quite like a good road trip. Memories are guaranteed to be made.
But wait, what’s that? There’s a cloud ready to rain on your parade: the ever-present danger of traffic accidents. Tragically, tens of thousands of people die on U.S. roads every year. Before you start daydreaming about your destination, shouldn’t you feel just a little worried about getting into a crash that leaves you badly hurt, or worse?
Let our experienced Texas car accident attorneys do the worrying for you. We’ve come up with this handy guide to ensure you stay safe the next time you plan to hit the road for a stretch. Come along for the ride and read on!
Road Trip Planning 101
Let’s start with the basics. Road trip veterans have a message for anyone who considers spontaneity the essence of a good road trip.
Imagine you’re hanging out with your crew when all of a sudden someone says, “OMG, let’s go to Graceland and sing ‘Love Me Tender’ at Elvis’s grave!” Before you know it, you find yourselves somewhere deep in southern Arkansas in the middle of the night with an eighth of a tank of gas, 200-plus miles to go until Memphis, and nothing to eat. Not the best of times!
But the lesson is learned, and we’re here to share the knowledge. Once is enough for those kinds of adventures in under-preparedness and low fuel warning lights. (Plus, with nomadic “van life” becoming increasingly popular, these tips are even more timely.)
The best road trip requires some careful, sensible planning. Nothing complicated, just basic steps to avoid abject disaster, like:
- Make sure your car works. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails faster than a car that doesn’t start. When selecting the vehicle for your journey, choose the one with tires that have plenty of tread, a working transmission, reliable wipers, and lights that, you know, light up. Get an oil change before you head out, just for good measure. Many auto shops offer “pre-trip safety checks” and inspections to confirm you’re road-trip-ready.
- Bring MONEY! If only we could all live in a utopia of free gas, Mr. Pibb, and Red Vines. Unfortunately, you’ll need to bring cash or have a credit card to fund your needs. The bare minimum should cover gas both ways with an extra tank or so to spare, meals, and the cost of a place to crash (you know, if couch-surfing with your friend’s cousin’s ex-roommate doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped.)
- Have a destination or, at least, know when and how you will get home. Look, we totally support the concept of a road-trip-for-road-trip’s-sake. Sometimes, you just need to drive and let fortune guide you where she may. But, even if you plan to go for the whole footloose-and-fancy-free approach to road tripping, having a general idea of where you might end up is a good idea. At a minimum, give yourself a target date and time to return to wherever you started, so that you have an idea of how far you can drive before it’s time to turn around.
- ALWAYS wear a seatbelt. On long road trips you or your passengers might be tempted to lie down in the backseat for a nap, hang out the window for a breeze, or bust out some dance moves. This is not worth unbuckling your seatbelt! If you get into an accident, a seatbelt could be the only thing standing between life and death.
- Tell someone your plan. If you plan to visit someone at the other end of your road trip, it’s polite to let them know you’re coming. If you just plan to head out on an adventure, take a tip from outdoor explorers and tell someone who stays behind when you expect to get back. That way, if something happens and you do not return as planned, they can send out the proverbial (or literal) search party.
Believe me, nothing good comes from ignoring these lessons. They represent the bare minimum planning steps to get you home from a road trip in one piece.
Safety On the Road
Safety first! Commit this to memory before your road trip gets underway.
Distractions Kill Road Trippers
That sounds dramatic, but it’s tragically true. Long hours behind the wheel can make any road trip driver go a little stir crazy. To break up the monotony, some drivers scroll through music and podcasts on their phones, talk to passengers in the back seat, eat a drive-thru meal with one hand, and sneak a peek at Waze when it starts talking to them. Some road trippers who get really bored even respond to texts and post to social media with one hand, while holding the steering wheel in the other. Do not give into these temptations. These distractions can severely injure or kill people.
The human brain is not built to drive safely while doing any of the tasks above. Even if you think you’re a multi-tasking master, now is not the time to flex. (Actually, multi-tasking a total myth.) Plus, being able to walk and chew gum at the same time does not make you somehow magically able to steer and text simultaneously. Those tasks occupy separate parts of your brain that do not work well together. Pay attention to one and, without fail, you will lose focus on the other.
So you’re left with a choice. Not paying attention to the road can get you killed. Not paying attention to your phone won’t. Easy decision, we hope.
Trucks Pose A Threat
Remember how, as a kid, you used to love making the “honk your horn” arm signal to truck drivers as your parents drove past a big rig? Yeah, don’t do that. Especially if you’re the driver.
Follow these tips to stay extra-safe when sharing the road with dangerous, imposing trucks:
- Do not linger in “truck blind spots”. Trucks have large blind spots. They can’t help it. Smaller vehicles like yours disappear in those spaces and become invisible to a truck driver. Did you know a big rig’s blind spots extend 20 feet in front of a cab, 30 feet behind a trailer, one lane to the truck’s left, and two lanes to the truck’s right? That’s a lot of room for deadly errors to happen. If you cannot see a truck driver in his mirrors, then he can’t see you. If you stay in the danger area around a truck for too long, a trucker might speed up, slow down, or change lanes without realizing the danger of running you over or crowding you off the road.
- Avoid trucks at late hours. Many an epic road trip has begun at an odd time of day. It often feels as if taking off in the middle of the night for an unknown destination fuels the fun and adventure. But there’s a problem: during late night hours, a disproportionate share of the traffic you encounter on the road consists of large trucks. That’s no coincidence. Truckers drive late into the night because their delivery schedules demand it, and because they know they have a better chance of avoiding tie-ups and rush hour traffic. Still, truckers are human. Like anyone, they get tired behind the wheel. In fact, studies show that truckers drive extremely tired a lot. Too much. Fatigue impairs driving ability to the same degree as drunkenness. In other words, a truck you encounter on a late-night road trip could be as dangerous as a driver who just downed a six-pack. Give trucks LOTS of extra room to maneuver at night, or better yet, make yours a daytime road trip.
What’s the Rush?
Why speed? A road trip is a time to relax. Besides, speeding contributes to a huge number of catastrophic and fatal accidents every year. Do not make your road trip one of those sad statistics. Observe speed limits in optimal driving conditions, and go even slower on wet, dark, or foggy roads.
Plus, driving at a safe speed avoids the possibility of blowing through a speed trap and having to go back for a must-appear court date.
The Big “What If…”
Road-trip-gone-wrong might work well as the plot of a ’90s comedy movie, but here in the real world, traffic-related disasters have horrible, devastating consequences. If you get into one, you might end up with:
- Spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries from car accidents paralyze thousands of Americans every year. Don’t spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair.
- Traumatic brain injuries. You know what makes you you? Your brain. Injure that, and suddenly everything in your world changes, starting with how you experience it.
- Traumatic amputations and crushed limbs. One poor choice on the road can alter the course of the rest of your life.
We could go on, but you catch our drift. Catastrophic car accidents on a road trip can shatter life as you know it, so please try to stay safe.
If the worst happens and you end up in a crash on your road trip, follow these simple tips to protect your health and wellbeing:
- Get medical help right away. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 (or take any money from anyone who offers to “settle up without getting lawyers involved.”) The severity of accident injuries can take a while to become clear. Conditions like brain injuries or internal bleeding worsen over time. Do not trust that just because you “feel okay” after a crash that you are, in fact, okay. Let a doctor look you over. You can worry about paying medical bills later. Your health takes priority.
- Call home. Road trip accidents typically happen far from home, away from your support network. Fortunately, we live in the age of constant communication. Take advantage and call/text/email/Skype/What’sApp/Zoom friends or family back home right away. Ask for help getting home if you need it. Then call your doctor’s office (or have someone do it for you) and ask them to coordinate with the medical providers who give you care after the crash.
- Connect with a personal injury lawyer you can trust. The fact is, getting into a wreck on a road trip can introduce all kinds of complications you never planned for. But do you know who does plan for those worst-case scenarios? Car accident lawyers who spend their life fighting for accident victims. We can do everything in our power to make sure you get the compensation and treatment you deserve when something goes wrong.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.