Summer vacation season is here, which means it's time to review driving safety tips. According to the Associated Press, Americans are feeling more confident about the economy but still plan to stay closer to home and take a car trip rather than a plane ride. As a result, it's important to remember these 10 safe summer driving tips before hitting the road with your family and a week's worth of gear stuffed into the trunk.

1. Wear a Seat Belt

As recently as 2010, one in seven adults still did not wear a seat belt when they traveled in a car, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- this, despite the fact that once every 14 seconds an adult is treated in an emergency room for crash-related injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that by increasing seat belt use, thousands of lives could be saved annually. Clearly, wearing a seat belt is the most important of our driving safety tips.

If you or someone you love are having trouble understanding how seat belts can save a life, place a carton of eggs on your front passenger seat, accelerate up to 45 miles per hour and slam on the brakes as hard as you can. Quite a mess, isn't it? That's what happens to your body if you are not wearing a seat belt.

2. Properly Restrain Children

Riding in a child safety seat is natural for younger children today. My own kids utterly freak out if they think I'm about to put the car in gear before their safety restraints are snapped into place. Since riding in a car seat is as natural to them as the movement of the car itself, getting the children into the seats in the first place is not the safety issue to address. Rather, it is ensuring the child safety seat is properly secured to restrict seat movement in a collision.

You must use the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children straps to tighten the child safety seat properly. Modern cars have anchors tucked into the gap where the bottom rear seat cushion and the seat back meet. Run the bottom LATCH strap through the back of the child safety seat, click the anchors into place and tighten the strap. This takes muscle, so if you don't have it, get help from someone who does. The base of the seat should not wiggle or move more than one inch in any direction.

Don't forget the top LATCH strap. It goes under the rear seat headrest or over the rear seat headrest, and clicks into place using the anchor located behind the seat. Tighten this strap, too.

If you're unable to secure the child safety seat so it doesn't move an inch in any direction, or if you own an older vehicle that does not have LATCH anchors, thread the rear 3-point seat belt through the child safety seat back and click it into place. Be sure to tighten the belt to remove as much slack and restrict as much child seat movement as much as possible.

3. Maintain Your Vehicle

If you're like many Americans, you're somewhat indifferent to vehicle maintenance. So before taking a long trip in your car, get it inspected by a qualified mechanic. The last thing you want during your summer road trip is a vehicle breakdown.

At a minimum, you need to change the oil and oil filter, top off your washer fluid, make sure your tires have enough tread and be sure the tires are set to the proper tire pressure. If it's been several years, you also will want to get new wiper blades, flush the coolant system and perhaps replace the engine's belts and hoses.

4. Get New Tires

Your car's tires are among the most important contributors to vehicle safety. Tires keep your car, truck, SUV or minivan tethered to Mother Earth. So before taking a long trip it is important to inspect them for wear or damage. If they are worn due to age, tire pressure neglect or a bad alignment, you'll need to replace them. This is expensive, but it could save your life.

Also, be sure your spare tire is in good shape, and that your car's jack and lug wrench are present and accounted for.

5. Check All Lights

Before setting off on your summer road trip, make sure all your car's lights work. They're all important, so ask for help as you cycle through the headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, hazard flashers and reversing lights.

6. Get the AC Checked

Have you ever driven through, say, Arkansas on a muggy and buggy July afternoon? If you're nodding your head, you know exactly how important your car's air-conditioning system is to retaining your sanity during a summer road trip. Get it inspected before departure.

7. Consider Renting a Car

If you own a vehicle that is not in fight-ready condition or simply does not get very good gas mileage, it may be worthwhile to rent a car for your summer road trip. Newer cars get better fuel economy, and they rarely break down. Plus, you won't put the extra wear-and-tear on your own vehicle.

8. Carry an Emergency Roadside Assistance Kit

In spite of the best-laid plans, your vehicle still could break down during your road trip, or someone in your car could be injured. You could happen upon fellow motorists who require immediate assistance, as well. For these reasons, carrying an emergency roadside assistance kit is important.

Search for such an item on the Internet and you'll find a range of kits varying in price and content. At a minimum, experts recommend having first-aid supplies, a hazard triangle or warning flares for when your car is stuck at the side of the road, a can of tire sealant, jumper cables, a flashlight with fresh batteries and a pair of gloves. If you're traveling off-road or in lightly populated areas, it is also wise to carry warm clothing, food and water.

9. Watch Out for People

In the summer, people go outside. They walk. They run. They bike. They chase Frisbees into the street. They might not be paying much attention as they frolic in the sunshine. As a driver, your job is to watch out for them.

10. Watch Out for Trucks

We're discussing this one last, but it could be the most important tip of them all: Watch out for trucks. We're talking about the 18-wheelers, the ones that have large blind spots and take a long time to stop. As such, it is dangerous for motorists to travel unnecessarily in lanes adjacent to large trucks. Either pass the truck or tuck in behind it. Don't sit in the lane next to it if you have a choice.

More important, it is dangerous for motorists to cut in front of a truck and then apply the brakes, for any reason. Semi-trucks are very heavy, take a long time to slow down and stop and are not as nimble as a car in their handling. For example, if you're about to miss your exit or turn, it's better to find a safe place to turn around and double back instead of diving in front of a truck and then slamming on the brakes to make your last-minute move.

author photo

Christian Wardlaw is passionate about the cars, trucks, and SUVs people actually buy, not the models about which they fantasize. An industry veteran and former editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com, this father of 4 loves to inform and entertain everyday car buyers.

Related Articles & Car Reviews

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

Shopping Tools

Loading Ajax Content Loading Ajax Content