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NEWS | June 10, 2014

Critical days, critical decisions: Prepared driving gets motorists there and back safely

By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Editor's Note: This feature is a part of a series highlighting Critical Days of Summer safety tips.

Each summer, millions of Americans hit the road, venturing out on vacations and road trips. These trips can range anywhere between right down the road to a transcontinental epic, with thousands of potential miles and hours of traffic between. Increased traffic on roadways can be dangerous, but is only one of the potential threats drivers face.

Travelers can greatly improve their chances of successful, incident-free travel by preparing their vehicles - and themselves - before even starting the engine.
Before the rubber hits the road

Keeping vehicles road-ready should be the first step travelers take before venturing out on any trip. Regular maintenance, such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks and tire rotations, go a long way toward preventing breakdowns.

From 2009 to 2013, the Air Force suffered two fatalities and 10 injuries over the summer months due to 12 blown tires. Between 2005 and 2007, tire failure contributed to 43.3 percent of crashes. Always inspect tires thoroughly before travel, especially long-distance driving. Use the following guidelines when giving wheels a look-over:

· The best way to avoid a flat tire -- or a blowout -- is to check the pressure on all tires, including the spare, at least once a month.

· A tire doesn't have to be punctured to lose air. All tires naturally lose some air over time. In fact, under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure.

· Monitoring tire pressure on trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles is critical, as these vehicles have a higher center of gravity and are more prone to rollover than cars.

· Exercise special care with regard to tire inflation and tire condition on older tires, particularly in warm weather.

· Inflating tires to the recommended pressure is important when towing a trailer, as some of the weight of the loaded trailer is transferred to the towing vehicle. Check the tire information placard or the owner's manual for the maximum recommended load for the vehicle and the correct tire pressure.

· Always check pressure when tires are cold, meaning they haven't been driven on for at least three hours.

· Inspect tires for signs of excessive or irregular wear. Use the "Lincoln's head" penny test, or look for the built-in wear bar indicators to determine when it's time to replace tires. Place a penny in the tread with Lincoln's head upside down and facing you. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, you have less than 1/16 of an inch of tread and need to replace the tires.

· Irregular tread-wear patterns indicate the need for tire rotation and/or realignment. Accomplish this before any trips.

Dangers of drowsy driving

Once the vehicle is inspected and all necessary repairs and routine maintenance has been performed, drivers should prepare themselves for the stress of traveling. Heavy traffic and long-distance driving can having dangerous effects on motorists, including fatigue, complacency and "highway hypnosis," a lull caused by the repetition of driving long distances in similar roadway conditions.

Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and nearly 1,550 deaths annually. The following tips can help drivers get from Point A to Point B safely:

· Create a positive driving environment. Use music to keep you entertained and alert during the drive.

· Bring snacks and water. Avoid salty snacks, and consider packing fruits, which provide energy between meals.

· Drive at an easy pace. Avoid hurrying, which can tire drivers and make sustaining alertness difficult.

· Avoid over-eating. Try light meals and regular intervals. Don't drive on an empty stomach, but over-eating can increase fatigue. Stay hydrated while driving - water is the best choice.

· Drive well-traveled, major roadways. Taking back roads unnecessarily improves the chances of getting lost or encountering poorer driving conditions in inclement weather.

· Don't try to make long trips all at once. If possible try to limit driving to 12 hours per day, and budget time to stop and rest. Consider breaking your trip into sections with stops to sleep and recharge along the way.

The open road can bring a world of great adventure, enjoyment and much-needed time away during the summer months, but without proper planning and discretion, an otherwise fun road trip can end up becoming a permanent vacation. Don't become a statistic.

For more information about vehicle and driving safety, contact the 633rd ABW Safety Office at 633ABW/