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Summer driving tips

Like many of the transportation officials and advocates who attended the Wednesday morning groundbreaking for the HOT lanes operations centeRr, John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic was late. Everybody got stuck in the traffic jam caused by a serious accident on Interstate 395. Townsend, who was there to speak on behalf of the Orange Cones. No Phones campaign against distracted driving in work zones, used the personal experience to make a point.

When we drive into severe congestion -- especially when we've got someplace to be -- we can easily lose awareness of safety rules and the situation around us, Townsend said. I want to share some safety tips with you here, but nothing really beats what Townsend said about how to steer your way through your anxiety in heavy traffic: Take a deep breath and don't panic. You'll get there.

These are some common sense suggestions from AAA Mid-Atlantic about handling the heavy demands of summer driving.

Plan. Read maps and check traffic conditions before you get on the road.

Stow electronic devices. Turn off your phone before you drive so you won't be tempted to use it while on the road. Pull over to a safe place to talk on the phone or to send and receive text messages or e-mails.

Prepare children and pets. Get the children buckled in and situated with snacks and entertainment before you start driving. If they need additional attention during the trip, pull off the road safely to care for them. Similarly, prepare and secure pets inside the vehicle before starting out.

Eat sensibly. Eat meals and snacks before getting behind the wheel, or stop to eat and take a break if driving long-distance. (This is especially important if you're planning an early morning getaway. Your energy and attention will dissipate quickly if you haven't eaten.)

Store loose gear. Stash away loose objects that could roll around and take your attention away from driving.

Prepare your vehicle. Adjust seat positions, climate controls, sound systems and other devices before you leave or while your vehicle is stopped. Make sure your headlights are spotless so you can see everything on the road and other drivers can see you.

Dress right beforehand. Your car isn't a dressing room. Brush your hair, shave, put on make-up, before you leave. (If it was cooler when you started and you need to shed a layer as the day warms, pull over to do that. Don't be dealing with sleeves while holding the steering wheel.)

Get your brain in the game. Focus on your prime mission: Scan the road, use mirrors and practice commentary driving, identifying orally events and conditions you may have to react to. Focusing on maintaining your thoughts about the road can enhance your engagement, your overall awareness and behavior as a driver.

Evaluate your own behavior. When you're on the road as a passenger or a pedestrian, take a look around and honestly evaluate whether you might have some of the same driving behaviors as the people you're worried about. (Most drivers think they're above average.)

Enlist passengers. Ask a passenger to help you with activities that would be distracting to you, like reading a map, or finding an object in the vehicle.

See also:
-- Planning summer getaway routes.
-- Tips on timing getaways.
-- More people planning to travel this Memorial Day weekend.
-- Lon Anderson, director of Public and Government Relations at AAA Mid-Atlantic, will be online at 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss Memorial Day travel.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 27, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Getaway , distracted driving , highways , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips  
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