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Friday, November 21, 2008

Driving Back Home to Unfamiliar Territory

It’s holiday travel season again and many of us will be traveling to what was once very familiar territory but, which now, may be totally foreign to us. This holiday season, I’ll be driving through my home town of Atlanta, a city that is no longer familiar to me. Atlanta is changing so rapidly that I can no longer count on past knowledge to find my way around. The Atlanta of my youth was easy to get around in and the natives took great pride in their courtesy to other drivers. That city was replaced by an alien world that more closely resembles a crowded NASCAR track.

When I leave Florida, I will be leaving a driving environment made up of relatively flat straight roads and warm weather for an environment made up of hilly, curving roads and temperatures low enough to cause bridges to ice over.

If you are driving back “home” to a different driving environment, you may want to take a few moments to consider the differences in the driving environment and preparations are needed. You can start by asking yourself some simple questions:

• Will the weather be different where I am going?
If you are driving from warm to cold, you may want to pack blankets, extra food, and heavy jackets in case the roads close, a bad collision brings traffic to a halt, or you experience a break down or flat tire. Do you have experience driving in snow and ice? If not, you will want to be extra careful and slow down. Review your skid procedures and remember, always turn the wheel in the direction of the skid, keep your foot off the brake until you have recovered, and then slow down gently.

• Will the driving environment be different?
If you are going from mountainous and curvy to straight and flat, you need to be aware of “driver’s hypnosis” caused by driving on long, straight, boring roads. You can easily fall asleep if you don’t take frequent rest periods and take action to keep your mind alert. Just make sure the actions you take to stay alert don’t take your mind off the important task of watching the road.
If you are going from flat to mountainous, remember that you can’t drive at the same speeds you are used to. Anticipate an obstruction around the next curve or hill; on two-lane roads, watch for cars that may pass illegally. If you are going slower than other traffic, pull over to let them pass; if you are going faster, maybe they know something you don’t know. Slow down!

• Am I driving from a small town to a big city (or vice versa)?
If, you are driving through a large city, prepare for an intense driving environment. Take a rest stop on the outskirts of the city, study a map to familiarize yourself with your route and be prepared to drive straight through.
If you are driving to a small town, don’t take your big city driving behaviors with you. Rural environments are more laid back and drivers may not be in a hurry. Be patient when you are stuck behind a slower driver. Remember, you may encounter slow moving farm equipment and even animal drawn vehicles which have the same right to the road that you do.

• Have there been many changes since my last visit?
Construction zones may be frequent. That old familiar exit may have been remodeled or closed. You can go on-line to the state department of transportation to check for any changes, construction zones, and road closures on your route. Pay attention to signs. The speed limit on your old road may have changed; a new traffic light may have been added since your last visit.

• Is the car ready?
Is your coolant going to be able to handle the changes in temperature? Does your windshield wiper have alcohol based fluid? Are your tires in good shape and properly inflated? Get an oil change and have all your fluids checked before you leave. Will you need tire chains in case of snow? Does your defroster work? Make sure you have an ice scraper and don’t drive with any ice or snow covering any part of your windows or mirrors. Make sure you have a fully charged cell phone and pay attention to mileage markers in case you need to call for help.

• Am I giving myself enough time?
Be sure to drive during the time you would normally be awake to avoid Driving While Drowsy. Take a break every two hours or 100 miles. Remember that speed kills and doesn’t really get you there that much faster. Speeding can also be expensive (a speeding ticket in Virginia, for instance can cost more than $1,000.) Remember that congested roads create frustrated drivers who tend to make more mistakes.

• And the biggest safety tip of all?
Make sure you and your passengers always wear seat belts.

To learn more about driver safety and education please visit our Driver Safety Alerts at

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy holiday period.

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