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Driving Tips for Long Car Journeys

By: Clare Birtles - Updated: 22 May 2015 | comments*Discuss
Car Journeys Breakdown Assistance

A long car journey can take its toll on even the most hardened of travellers and a breakdown or traffic jam will just add to that. There are some steps you can take which can help alleviate the stress and fatigue of a long trip - some of which are already familiar, others which maybe new to you.

Planning the Journey

A little knowledge goes a long way: when planning your route, take into account the times of day when you'll be passing through busy towns (avoid rush hours) and where there are roadworks. Both the AA & RAC offer route planners for UK and Europe on their websites, which allow you to choose various route options and alert you of potential traffic hotspots.

If you're aiming to be somewhere at a specific time such as a ferry port or camping site, plan (realistically) meal and toilet breaks into your journey. General advice is to take a break of 15 minutes at least every two hours.

Preparing for the Trip

The first thing to consider is 'is your car ready to go?' Breakdowns and accidents are often attributed to poor car maintenance and below is a quick reminder of what to check. Bear in mind that there are plenty of garages service providers who will undertake all the car checks for you if you don't want to do it yourself.

Tyre Tread - The minimum, legal tread depth for tyres is 1.6mm, though most motoring organisations recommend maintaining a tread depth of at least 3mm. Worn tyres give a higher chance of aquaplaning in the wet, affect the handling of the car and make your stopping distance much longer.
Tyre Pressure - the wrong pressure affects steering and braking. If tyres are under-inflated they will wear more quickly or in the wrong places and cause the problems listed above. If you've lots of luggage and extra passengers, the required tyre pressure will be different. And don't forget to check the spare wheel and the jacking equipment.
Engine - Check water/coolant (anti freeze in cold weather) and oil levels to prevent over-heating and engine failure.
Windscreen and Lights - ensure the windscreen washer reservoir is full and that wiper blades are not split or worn. Lights must be clean and fully working to meet legal requirements.

Packing the Car

Pack the car the night before, so make sure all the family are well-prepared days before you go! Try to spread the load evenly when packing the car and avoid leaving any items loose - someone could get hit if you brake sharply. Another thing to bear in mind is ease of access to the spare wheel, so keep everything in hold-alls or cases, which will be easier to remove.

Setting Off

Chill out - many crashes/near misses occur within first 2 hours of a journey - the stress of getting everyone and everything into the car, securing the home, telling the neighbours, dropping the dog at the kennel and so on can dishearten even the most enthusiastic of travellers. Write a list of what's got to be done when and who's doing it. Set your leaving time half an hour earlier than your original plan to allow for any last minute hitches and get comfortable with some good music on as soon as you get in the car.

Staying Fresh

Fatigue affects your concentration, can make you less tolerant of other drivers and increase your chances of having an accident. Stay fresh by taking regular breaks and sharing the driving - swap regularly so the passenger isn't at the same point of weariness. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol, which can make you lethargic.

If you do start to feel sleepy try and stop for a 15 minute nap, two cups of coffee or high energy drinks containing caffeine and turning the radio up might also help.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell just how tired you are. If you have any of the following symptoms it's time for a break:

  • You keep yawning
  • You start to feel stiff
  • Your eyes feel heavy
  • You find yourself day-dreaming or staring at the car in front
  • The car wanders out of your lane

Remember at certain times of the year there maybe other tired drivers around too, so being alert is doubly vital.

Taking Care of your Passengers

Passengers need breaks too, research has shown it's possible to develop Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clotting) on a car journey of as little as four hours. Passengers may be more prone to travel sickness, so make sure they avoid reading and keep their eyes focusing straight ahead. Bright sunshine can affect you and your passengers so try sunscreens, sunglasses and keep the car cool with air conditioning if you have it.

Children in cars can make a journey much more stressful, but can also be great fun. See our article in Travelling with Children for ways to keep children safe and happy in the car.

What To Do in a Breakdown

Firstly, don't be tempted to go anywhere without appropriate breakdown cover, if you are travelling to Europe, check you are covered there too. Below is an outline of what to do if you do break down.

Driving on the Motorway
The hard shoulder is only for use in an emergency; so don't be tempted to stop for any other reason. If your car is driveable, try to get to the next junction or service station before calling for assistance. If you do have to stop on the motorway hard shoulder consider the following:

  • Stopping as near to the kerb side as possible, with your wheels pointing in so if your car is hit it will not go back into the line of moving traffic.
  • Switch your hazard warning lights on
  • You and the passengers should get out on the kerbside, leaving animals in the car. Wait near your vehicle but well away from the traffic, up the motorway embankment or behind a barrier if possible. If you are alone and feel threatened, get back into the car (on the kerbside) and lock all the doors until you feel the danger has passed.
  • Reflective clothing should be worn if you have any. Warning triangles are not recommended for use on motorways.
  • Do not be tempted to undertake a repair on the hard shoulder - even a simple one.
  • In the UK, the police advise you to call from a motorway emergency telephone, which connects directly to them, in preference to a mobile phone. If you do have to use your mobile, find a reference number on a marker post so you can be found easily.
Finally, if you cannot get your vehicle to a hard shoulder, switch on your hazard warning lights and get safely clear of the carriageway.

Other Road Types
Try and get the vehicle off the road and switch on your hazard warning lights. If your vehicle poses a danger to other traffic or is in danger of being hit, get all passengers away and place your warning triangle at least 45 metres behind your car. Take care of yourself and other passengers, wearing reflective clothing if you have it and staying clear of oncoming traffic. Remember to note where you are before calling the police or breakdown service using your mobile or any available phone. Driving abroad is also dealt with in our article Driving Safely when Abroad.

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Good, sound advice. It's a handy refresher for the seasoned driver and for the newly passed a great lesson before undertaking that first long adventure.
Cpfc - 22-May-15 @ 11:54 AM
This tips is very usefull my journey babathank you very much my friend
chinnakoundar - 10-Jan-13 @ 1:47 PM
Dear all, saying that triangles are not recommended on motorways is rubbish, illegal in many countries and potentially dangerous. For example, if you do not display a warning triangle at least 100m behind your car on a motorway in Germany, you can have as many hazard lights and reflectors blinking as you like, if you are hit from behind you will be considered at fault for the accident and if somebody dies, potentially be charged with manslaughter! At higher speeds people need more advanced warning and placing a warning triangle at the hard shoulder clearly indicates a hazard further ahead. Thanks, DJ
djcat - 11-Jun-12 @ 2:03 PM
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