101 Critical Days of Summer: Focus on summer driving, vehicle safety

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo., -- Motor vehicle traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for all Americans between two and 34, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Similarly, the leading cause of fatal mishaps during the 101 Critical Days of Summer continues to be off-duty private motor vehicle mishaps. These accidents were often caused by drunk drivers, fatigue and reckless behavior. In an effort to prevent these types of fatalities, servicemembers and their families are asked to keep the following tips from the NHTSA in mind before hitting the road this summer:

Before you go
Perform regular maintenance such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks, tire rotations, and so forth on your vehicle. Pay particular attention to:

Tires -- Check the air pressure in all tires, especially the spare. To get an accurate reading, check pressure when tires are cold, meaning they haven't been driven on for at least three hours. Also, take five minutes to inspect tires for signs of excessive or irregular wear. If the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch, it's time to replace the tire. For more information on tire safety and pressure, visit the "Tires" section of www.safercar.gov.

Belts and hoses -- Look under the hood and inspect all belts and hoses to make sure they are in good shape with no signs of blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber. High summer temperatures accelerate the rate at which rubber belts and hoses degrade, so it's best to replace them now if they show signs of obvious wear. Additionally, check all hose connections to make sure they're secure.

Wiper blades -- Examine windshield wiper blades for signs of wear and tear. After the heavy duty imposed by winter storms and spring rains, it's likely that windshield wipers are ragged from use and ready to be replaced. Moreover, like rubber belts and hoses, wiper blades are susceptible to the summer heat.

Cooling system --Carefully check coolant levels to make sure it's adequate. In addition, if it's time to have the cooling system flushed and refilled (or even nearly time), have it done now.

Fluid levels -- Check oil, brake, transmission, power steering, coolant, and windshield fluids. In addition look for any sign of fluid leakage, if any is found take the vehicle in to be serviced before heading out.

Lights -- Ensure all the lights on the vehicle are in working order. Check headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights.

Air conditioning -- Check AC performance before traveling. Lack of air conditioning on a hot summer day can adversely affect people who are in poor health or are sensitive to heat, such as children and seniors. If the air is not blowing cold, it's a good idea to have the system repaired before hitting the road.

On the road
You can't control how others on the road conduct themselves; however, you can make sure you drive responsibly. Keep the following things in mind while driving:

Don't drink and drive -- 250,000 people have died in alcohol related accidents in the past 10 years, according to the NHTSA. Presently 25,000 people are killed each year in alcohol related accidents.

Avoid fatigue -- Plenty of distractions both inside and outside while driving can take a person's attention from the road, drivers are reminded to stay focused and avoid fatigue. The NHTSA recommends scheduling frequent breaks and stopping for food or beverages, taking time to pull over at a rest stop just to stretch your legs, staying overnight at a motel or local bed and breakfast, and sharing the driving.

Emergency roadside kit -- Even a well-maintained vehicle can break down, so it's advisable to put together an emergency roadside kit to carry with you. Suggested Emergency Roadside Kit contents include:
- Cell phone
- First aid kit
- Flashlight
- Flares and a white flag
- Jumper cables
- Jack (and ground mat) for changing a tire
- Work gloves and a change of clothes
- Basic repair tools and some duct tape (for temporarily repairing a hose leak!)
- A jug of water and paper towels for cleaning up
- Nonperishable food, drinking water, and medicines
- Extra windshield washer fluid
- Maps

Traveling with Children- Long trips can be especially tough on children. Stopping along the way makes the trip easier and less tiring for them as well. Bring along a few favorite books or soft toys to keep them content and occupied. Additionally, make room for appropriate child safety and/or booster seats. NHTSA guidelines for proper child safety and booster seat use can be found at www.boosterseat.gov under "Which seat is right for my child?"

Buckle up - Make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up properly at all times. Seat belts save 15,200 lives in the United States. each year. The NHTSA reports that three of five people killed in auto accidents would have survived their injuries had they been wearing a seat belt. Don't' become a statistic.