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:
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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This is a collaborative post.