How to have a safe road trip

How to have a safe road trip

This summer, we hopped into our car, crossed the Channel and went on a road trip of over 1,900 km through France.

A road trip is a good way to see another country. As well as exploring your holiday destination, you get to observe the scenery unfolding on your way there. In our case, we traversed the busy, northern roads along the Normandy shoreline; followed the twists and turns of grassy, verdant Finistère, in Brittany; passed through the lush, rolling valleys of the Dordogne; and drove past field after field of sunflowers on our way to the Vendée.

But those journeys were long. And, always at the back of my mind, was the question of safety. Yes, before we’d set off we’d gone through the motions of checking the car’s tyres, oil and water levels, and making sure the car insurance covered us for overseas prangs. But although France doesn’t have anywhere near as many road accidents as its neighbours Spain and Italy, the roads are still more murderous than those in the UK. The country has made great strides since 2001, when President Jaques Chirac enforced the existing laws on speeding and drink driving, bringing the death toll down from a staggering 7,721 a year. But last year 3,600 deaths were reported. That’s twice as many as in the UK.

We survived unharmed, of course (and had an amazing time – I’m still posting about our experiences, some of which you can read about here, here and here. I’d recommend a similar road trip to any lover of France and foreign travel).  And there’s an awful lot you can do to make sure your journey is as safe as it can be. Here are some of our favourite tips from fellow bloggers:

Avoid stress

A stressed or distracted driver is an unsafe driver. Sarah from Extraordinary Chaos suggests always having a credit card or change ready for toll fees, and researching the Highway Code for your destination:

In Florida a red light does not always mean stop. You can turn right on a red light if it is safe to do so. In France you must always give way to people turning from the right. It is important to ensure you turn off the speed camera detection on your sat nav as this is illegal in France, as is driving with a hands free mobile kit.

Take the time to check out the laws. We have found so many are different to here in the UK.  And with serious penalties should you be seen to break the local rules and laws.

Steph from Mental Parentals points out that you should make sure you have a plan for dealing with bored kids (who are the ultimate distraction on a car journey); and Mo from Adventures of a Novice Mum says:

Research and plan service stops before your trip, to eat, go to the loo, recharge, take a break, stretch your legs, and rest – with or without children, alone or with others. These break up the journey and make any related stress that bit more manageable. It can also help to improve your focus, and reduce any driving tensions.

Know the rules

Pippa from Red Rose Mummy says:

If you’re driving abroad be really careful to check the legal requirements of each country you are driving through (for example you need to have breathalysers and high-vis vests for every passenger when driving in France). Ignorance of the rules isn’t an excuse.

and Helen from Casa Costello points out that rules change often, so you need to keep up-to-date:

They changed the rules in France this summer to make it illegal to wear flip flops when driving & illegal to eat at the wheel. We didn’t know until we had been there a week.

Prepare for the weather

Winter driving poses particular challenges. Mara from the Mother of all Trips  says it’s essential to check the forecast before you set out; carry the right kit in your car – eg a shovel, blankets and warm clothes, a windscreen scraper; and have a backup paper map in your car in case your devices fail and your phone/GPS can’t help you.

Allison and Katie from Tips for Family Trips give tips on safe driving in wintry weather: leave extra space between your vehicle and other cars; pump the brakes when you need to stop or slow down; if you slide on ice, steer out of it. Both websites flag up how important it is to prepare your car before you set off, with a fuel tank at least half full, a battery in tip-top order and snow tyres or chains if needed. Mara, Allison and Katie all have more great tips on driving in winter, so do follow the links if you want to read more.

Never use your mobile phone while driving

This is the last, but possibly the most important tip and I was reminded of it by Victoria of Globetotting. The National Safety Council reports that 1 in 4 deaths while driving in the US are caused by texting. Never, ever do it.

What are your tips for keeping safe while on a road trip?

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8 Comments

  1. Anne
    September 26, 2016 / 5:54 pm

    I completely agree about learning the specific traffic regulations. I think the ones in France are pretty similar to what we have here (Israel). The US is different though, so yes, anyone coming from Florida (or any other US state) should be prepared for a learning curve of sorts.

    “you need to have breathalysers and high-vis vests for every passenger when driving in France”? I can understand the vests – sort of – but breathalysers for each passenger? Does that include kids? You have me worried now as we’re going to rent a car in France next spring.
    We actually rented back in May and the rental company didn’t say anything about any of that. I guess it’s not their job to let us know but you’d think they’d like to offer some friendly advice.

    • Nell
      Author
      September 26, 2016 / 8:47 pm

      Hi Anne, thanks for stopping by. It’s only the high-vis jackets that you need for each passenger, not the breathalyser – but you are required by law to carry one. The RAC website (rac.co.uk) is quite useful on this. Good luck and have a great trip!

  2. September 26, 2016 / 10:30 pm

    Omg some of these facts are astounding. We spend a week driving in France this year and did so safely and last year drove form Miami to Orlando you don’t think it will not be as same as the UK, this has blown my mind a bit. It just shows how important it is to research. Thank you for including me fab post Nell x

    • Nell
      Author
      October 7, 2016 / 12:15 pm

      I know – checking the road rules isn’t something I’d think of first when preparing for a trip. So much can be different though!

  3. September 26, 2016 / 10:47 pm

    Some great tips. We intend to do a big road trip in a few years time and safety is so important on that. Oddly since my husband had a motorbike accident 12 months ago, I’ve been less worried about car accidents. It’s made me realise how safe and secure you are inside a car in comparison to being on a bike.
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      October 7, 2016 / 12:16 pm

      That’s so true. Bikes are scary things!

  4. October 1, 2016 / 2:48 pm

    Informative piece. I researched driving rules before we went to France this year but had not found out some of these things at all. We didn’t know it’s illegal to eat at the wheel and thought only a high vis was needed for the driver (what do people do for their babies?!). We did learn that if you cross a solid white line you can lose your licence but I don’t even know how to turn off the hands-free phone function as it’s built into the car!

    • Nell
      Author
      October 7, 2016 / 12:30 pm

      Hmmm I’m not sure about babies! It’s a minefield – I bet days could be lost researching this stuff.

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