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Travel smart during a summer road trip

Long days full of sizzling sunshine and carefree attitudes are often celebrated with road trips and vacations.

Safety precautions can be taken before and during these trips that will help ensure a safe getaway.

Travelers should check their vehicles, pack sunscreen and be aware of the creatures that share their space.

The excitement over an open stretch of road, wind in the hair and sun on the face can sometimes distract travelers from thinking about their safety while on a summer drive. Before leaving on a road trip, drivers should check all their vehicle's fluids — oil, coolant, transmission, brake and power steering, said Deanne Boisvert, King County Traffic Safety Task Force coordinator.

Running out of oil could cause a vehicle's engine to falter, leaving its driver and passengers stranded.

Travelers should also check their vehicle's outside lights and air pressure in the tires, Boisvert said. A tire with low air pressure is more likely to suffer from loss of traction and possibly a blowout, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site, www.nhtsa.gov. Both could result in loss of control of the vehicle.

Driving on under-inflated tires can also increase tread wear, which decreases gas mileage, according to the NHTSA site. If tread is worn down to one-sixteenth of an inch, tires should be replaced, the Web site said. A penny may be used to determine tread wear. If the penny is placed in a tire's tread and Lincoln's face can be seen, the tire should be changed, the NHTSA Web site said.

Drivers should also confirm that their vehicle's outside lights are working properly, Boisvert said. This includes headlights, taillights, parking and emergency lights as well as turn signals, she said.

Carrying a roadside emergency kit in one's vehicle is also a good idea, she said. A kit should include first aid supplies, flares, jumper cables, duct tape and extra coolant, among other things, according to the "Focus on Safety: Cool Tips for a Safe Summer" document produced by the King County Traffic Safety Task Force.

When traveling long distances, remember to rest when needed and use seat belts. Drivers should take a break from driving at least once every three hours, Boisvert said. This can help them avoid fatigue.

According to the study "Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes" performed in part by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, crashes in which at least one driver is drowsy often result in a serious, high-speed collision where one vehicle leaves the roadway.

For all distances, occupants of a vehicle should be buckled. Children under 8 years old or shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall should also be secured in a car booster seat, Boisvert said. Drivers and front seat passengers are safest if they sit no closer than 10 inches from the dashboard, in case the vehicle's airbags deploy, she said.

Sunburn and insects

Arriving at one's destination safely calls for a bit of rejoicing, but that does not mean additional safety measures are not needed.

The power of the sun's rays can be grossly underestimated. Ultraviolet rays are an invisible form of radiation, which can penetrate skin and change the structure of skin cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin. Too much sun can cause sun damage, such as cancer and wrinkles.

To assist in avoiding a sunburn, let a sunscreen's sun protection factor (SPF) be one's guide. A higher numbered SPF generally means more protection. The use of a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and lip balm is advised, according to a July 19, 2005, Washington State Department of Health news release.

Sunscreen should be applied often, according to the CDC Web site. Sunscreens made to partially resist sweat and water are available. The CDC Web site urges one to remember that sunscreen is not the only protective measure that can be taken against the sun's rays; wide-brimmed hats and clothing that covers skin can also decrease one's chances of getting a sunburn.

Enjoying the great outdoors is part of what summer is about in Washington state, but humans are not the only ones outside in the nice weather. Bugs and insects are plentiful during this time. While many bugs and insects found in Washington are harmless, a few have the ability to carry and spread disease.

Ticks and mosquitos are both creatures that feed on blood. They have the ability to spread diseases. Ticks burrow into a person's body and can carry Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection.

Mosquitos, found especially near bodies of water, can carry the West Nile Virus. The virus can prove fatal and was first found in birds and horses in Washington state in 2002, according to the state Department of Health's Web site, www.doh.wa.gov.

In 2006, three Washingtonians were infected with the disease, according to the "2006 West Nile Virus Surveillance Update" statistics gathered by the state Department of Health. Two of these cases were in Pierce County and one occurred in Clark County.

While following these tips will not guarantee a fun summer vacation, it may help in guaranteeing a safe one.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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