Byways and highways, tips and trivia to keep you entertained on summer road trip
Tires and being tired. Fuel and food. Byways and highways. What would a summer driving trip be without tips to keep you safe, trivia to keep you entertained and history to help you appreciate your travels?
Here’s a compendium of information to enhance your summer driving trip:
Which way are we going?
— If you’re driving on U.S. 395, you’re generally going north or south. If you’re driving on U.S. 50, you’re generally going east or west.
That’s consistent with a numbering system put in place to address the hodgepodge of names that trail associations had given to roads in their infancy.
In the mid-1920s E.W. James, secretary of the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, wrote, “With north-south roads numbered odd … and east-west roads numbered even … you at once start a simple, systemic, complete, expansible pattern for long-time development.”
Today, that pattern usually holds for interstate highways, which might help if you’re lost, although GPS will probably help you more. (Map lovers, feel free to disagree here.)
If you’re in a rental car and you don’t know which side the gas tank is on, look for a triangle near the fuel gauge — not a pump, as popular lore would have it — and you’ll know. It will point to the appropriate side of the car.
If you don’t see such a thing in your own car, it’s probably an older model.
Whose side are you on?
— Why do we drive on the right-hand side? Because we are who we are, which is to say: We’re not British.
Richard F. Weingroff, writing for the Federal Highway Administration, cites research by Albert C. Rose that indicates Americans didn’t feel compelled to do everything the same way as the colonizers of North America.
But Rose also noted that wagons — in particular, the Conestoga, the semi of its day — played a part; drivers wanted to make sure they had adequate clearance on the left. They also carried their guns in the crook of their left arms, said Rose, the unofficial historian of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads during his tenure with that agency from 1919 to 1950.
— Thank Henry Ford for the driver’s seat on the left. Before 1910, drivers sat on the right, according to M.G. Lay, an Australian historian cited in Weingroff’s article, even though they drove on the right.
Ford’s 1908 Model T had the driver on the left, and as it became more popular, other manufacturers copied.
When the heat is on
Your tires’ biggest enemy? Heat, says the Tire Industry Assn., which causes blowouts and their remnants you see all over the road.
And, the association noted, if drivers would properly inflate their car tires — underinflated tires will generate tire-damaging heat — they would see fewer pieces of tire junk (not a technical term) on the highway.
When inflation isn’t a bad thing
— Tires’ second biggest enemy: guessing (incorrectly) their proper inflation. One solution? Buy a good tire pressure gauge. Consumer Reports ranks the Accutire MS-4400B, the Accutire MS-4021B and the Intercomp 360060 as its top three models. Digital versions may be easier to read, it noted.
— To check for proper tire pressure, you’ll need to know the recommendations for your car. You’ll probably find them on a sticker on one of the door frames. If not, consult the owner’s manual (or call the dealership).
Check the tires in the morning, the Tire Industry Assn. advises, when they are “cold,” or after the car has been idle for a couple of hours.
Keep your cool
-- Of course, you’re going to take food in the car. If you do, FoodSafety.gov says you need to chill certain foods, including those ham sandwiches (and other lunch meats), dairy products and anything with mayo.
If your traveling companion complains that you pack too much in your car cooler, remind him or her that a full cooler stays cooler longer. Or, said another way, a hot cooler is very uncool. Especially if you are carrying deviled eggs.
Oh, the rocky road
— If people who get car sick try your patience, leave children ages 5-12, women and older adults at home, which does limit your companion choice if it’s a family vacation.
Those groups are more susceptible to motion sickness, according to WebMD, which explains the disorder as your body’s inability to reconcile the movement it senses (your inner ear) with the movement it sees (your eyes).
That results in nausea and its hateful sibling, vomiting. Sweating and headache may be part of the package too. The bad feeling usually stops when the motion stops.
— Over-the-counter meds can help. WebMD also suggests consuming soda crackers and/or fizzy drinks (it suggests ginger ale, but I have found Champagne effective, although not for the kids and not while driving), fresh air and a lie-down.
If the family dog is vacationing with you, be aware that dogs can become motion sick too, although they are rarely known to shout, “Stop! I’m going to be sick.” Which means cleanup is in your future.
It’s the law
— Be aware that traffic laws vary from state to state. For instance, not all states ban the use of handheld cell phones (California does) while driving.
In Kansas, you can use a handheld cellphone, but not in Manhattan (home of Kansas State University, not the Big Apple), according to the AAA Digest of Motor Laws.
— One law is the same in every state, and that is the blood alcohol content level that constitutes drunk driving: It is 0.08%. What varies are punishments if you are caught. You may be subjected to harsher penalties if your BAC reaches a certain threshold, for example (0.15% is a common). Here’s one way to avoid being caught, always: Never, ever drink and drive. Period.
Rest, don’t risk
— Drowsy driving is almost as dangerous as drinking and driving. If you feel fatigued, stop for the day or take a short nap.
In 2013, drowsy driving was responsible for about 72,000 crashes, resulting in 800 deaths — and these are just the accidents in which a driver self-reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC thinks that fatality number may be closer to 6,000.
— Buy gas in the morning if that’s what suits you, not because you’re going to get more for your money.
The topic of the temperature of the gasoline you’re pumping is one of seeming endless debate. It’s true that gas can expand or contract — “as much as 1% for every 15-degree change in the fuel’s temperature,” the L.A. Times reported.
“A gallon sold at the government standard 60 degrees has more energy in it than a gallon sold at 80 degrees,” the 2007 Times article said.
Here’s the issue: Unless the pump has “automatic temperature compensation” and keeps that fuel at 60 degrees, you can’t know how warm your gas is.
“Even if a station receives a load of gas at 5 a.m., if it’s coming straight from the refinery, the fuel will be hot and stay that way,” The Times’ article said.
You won’t save that much by buying 60-degree gas. Snopes.com, the myth debunking website, estimates you’d save $31 a year with that method. That was calculated using $4 a gallon as the base price; gas was about $2.89 a gallon in California, according to AAA’s Gas Prices, so you’ll save even less.
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