Tips For Safe Summer Driving: Traveling In Unfamiliar Areas


Whether your summer vacation is to a far away destination or just a few hundred miles from home, you may be encountering new and challenging road conditions that are unfamiliar to you. Driver safety and being prepared and ready for those conditions will make for a safer, more enjoyable vacation.

The Beach – Ocean-side resort areas pose a particular challenge in the summer time. Drivers in these areas may encounter many more pedestrians than usual. Pedestrians may be looking at the sights rather than looking at the traffic so drivers need to be especially careful. Remember that pedestrians always have the right-of-way over vehicles.

Drivers may also encounter a lot of bicycle and moped traffic. In places such as Key West, FL, many tourists rent mopeds or scooters and, with just a few minutes of instruction, set out on the road to look at the sights. Their unfamiliarity with their vehicle and the fact that they are sight-seeing can create a dangerous situation. According to, ambulances respond to approximately 300 moped/scooter collisions per year. Three-quarters of those collisions involve tourists and alcohol is often a factor.

Country Roads – Those drivers from the city who head out into the country need to remember not to take their city driving habits with them. Many people believe that interstates are the most dangerous type of road but, in fact, two-lane country roads are the deadliest type of road in the US. Winding, curving roads with limited passing and slow drivers can test a driver’s patience. Driving too fast on curves and giving into the temptation to pass without enough clear space is an invitation to disaster. You’re on vacation; slow down and enjoy the view.

Mountains – Mountains present their own challenges. Two-lane roads winding up and down prevent a driver from seeing very far ahead. Drivers who head for the mountains should make sure their brakes are in good condition because some of those long passes down the side of a mountain will require their constant use. This is no time for a brake failure. Some mountain passes, especially in the west, will have turnouts for trucks. These are exits on the side of the road with deep, loose sand and a barrier for trucks to use in case they lose their brakes. These turnouts aren’t rest stops or scenic over-views; they are there for a very serious purpose and should never be used by cars. Just like a country road, driving in the mountains takes a lot of patience and alertness on the part of a driver. Plan on your trip through the mountains being a slow, leisurely excursion and give yourself plenty of time.

Cities – For those drivers who aren’t used to driving in city traffic, the experience can be scary. A recent survey showed cities like New York, Miami, and Atlanta, are the top locations for road rage and aggressive driving. Tourists who are looking for exits can be a challenge to impatient natives trying to get to work or appointments. If you are traveling to an unfamiliar city, having a GPS with pre-programmed destinations is a good idea. If you are just passing through a large city, make sure you know your routes beforehand and don’t plan on stopping until you are on the other side of the city.

Great American Southwest – Very little compares to the stark beauty and grandeur of the southwestern desert and the roads here will normally be straight, wide, and have very little traffic. However the desert presents unique challenges. Air conditioning and a fully functioning cooling system in your car are essential here. A breakdown in the desert could mean a very long wait for help. If you are traveling on the interstate through the deserts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, it isn’t unusual to encounter a distance of more than 100 miles between freeway exits. Take advantage of rest stops and highway exits. The next gas station and restroom could be a very long way away. In spite of the view, boredom and highway hypnosis can be a problem here. Make sure you are well rested and switch drivers if you can. Even though the desert seems empty, you could encounter a herd of antelope crossing the roadway and you must remain alert at all times.

Weather – While we think of sunshine and warm weather during the summer, that isn’t always the case. Different areas of the country have their own unique weather patterns and these can present challenges to a driver unfamiliar with the area. Some areas of concern are:

  • Southeast and Gulf Coast – Heavy afternoon thunderstorms with strong winds and lightning are the norm here. These storms can dump as much as an inch of rain in less than an hour. Visibility can be reduced to just a few yards making it impossible to see the cars ahead. Hydroplaning can occur in standing water at speeds of 35 mph and higher so slow down. Listen to the radio. Tornadoes are always a possibility in these storms. If you encounter a tornado, get out of the car and seek a low-lying area such as a ditch or culvert.
  • High Elevations – Some of the higher elevations of the Rockies and Sierras can have early snows in late August and September. Listen to the weather and, if you aren’t used to driving in the snow, leave early if necessary.
  • Pacific Northwest – Even in the summer, the NW Pacific coast can experience lots of fog and drizzle. Be prepared for wet roads and adjust your speed.

Have an enjoyable and safe vacation.

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Source by Dave Herron