About once a week, I receive an e-mail that goes something like this: “I am going to drive from point A to point B. Is it safe?”
My first inclination is to say, “Of course it’s safe, for heaven’s sake. People do it every day.” But I understand what the correspondent means. While it’s the foray into the unknown that makes road trips so appealing, driving can be dangerous, and it is true that road trips are more risky than amusement-park rides. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to ensure that your next road trip is safe and sane, while still plenty adventurous.
Much of the concern I hear centers around unfamiliar weather and topography. I get urgent requests for advice from southerners planning to drive across the Great Plains in winter, certain they’re heading into a frozen oblivion “hundreds of miles from civilization.” Likewise, I hear from New Englanders who dread crossing ice-covered passes in the Rocky Mountains and Washingtonians who fear they will shrivel into beef jerky in Death Valley.
Such fears are not entirely irrational, of course. My personal nightmare scenarios include being slammed by a flash flood on a desert highway at night, and hitting a stretch of black ice on a bridge and falling into the frozen river below. Since terrifying events can and do occur on road trips, I resist the urge to say, “Oh, come on! What’s the worst that can happen?” Instead I offer some perspective and some advice.
Information is the best defense, and there is plenty of it available. The Web offers ample and accurate information on weather, road conditions and other matters of interest to road trippers. It is quite difficult these days to drive more than 100 miles on an American road without coming upon a town or a service station, even in the once-empty expanses of the West. Cell phone service is also more prevalent than it used to be. Even so, you can’t always count on it, and it’s worth considering acquiring a CB radio to fill in the gaps and to keep tabs on nearby professional truck drivers, who regularly report on road hazards.
After weather and topography come travelers’ fear that they will encounter people who wish them harm. Foreign tourists and young adults seem to be especially afflicted with this fear, apparently because they get many of their impressions about America from Hollywood movies and press coverage of sensational news. I have spent nearly 30 years roaming around North America, and I can think of only three instances when I encountered individuals who made no secret of their intent to commit a crime against me. I didn’t give any of them the opportunity to follow through with their threat, but it helped that I had been aware enough to keep my distance.
It helps to remember that every town in America is someone’s home town, and that most of it citizens feel comfortable and even friendly there. While there are some neighborhoods, particularly in major cities, that are best avoided, people are basically the same everywhere. The common-sense personal radar that serves you in your home town usually works just fine in someone else’s city, as long as you increase the focus one notch to orient yourself in the unfamiliar surroundings.
Here are six tips for feeling safe and sane on the road.
Road trips are meant to be filled with adventure and fun. Channel the energy you’re spending on that worst-case scenario into some sensible precautions, and you will have a safe, sane and enjoyable trip.
Mark Sedenquist is the publisher of , a Web site providing expert planning, advice and suggested itineraries for road trips. He's spent 30 years and a half-million miles on the road in North America. or visit his .