Packing the vehicle safely for your holiday road trip

Have you thought about how your packing could affect your car’s ability to drive safely on the road? Here are some packing tips from road safety experts, Arrive Alive.

Going away for the holidays can be daunting when you have little ones, especially with the amount of stuff they usually need. Prams, camp cots, blankets, high chair, potty, toys and plenty of changes of clothes, are just some of the items you may need to squeeze into the car. Depending on how far you are driving and what baby items are available to you at the other end, you could be wondering how you are going to pack it all in.

Pack with Thoughtfulness

It is best to pack most of our luggage the evening before we depart. This will prevent the thoughtless jamming of luggage into the vehicle when everyone is in a rush. When packing the vehicle, it is also good to consider the question “what can go wrong?”

  • Consider how you will get to the spare tyre or an emergency kit should there be a roadside emergency.
  • Remember: Last in, first out. Organise items in the order they will or may need to be accessed.

Vehicle specifications and rules of the road

Know your car and obey the law:

  • The safety of passengers and adhering to seatbelt or child car-seat laws must be the first priority before considering where to pack luggage.
  • Consider first which items must by law be inside your vehicle, such as the emergency triangle.
  • Know the height and width limitations for packing any luggage on top of your vehicle or extending beyond the vehicle.
  • Know your vehicle’s weight limit and recommended tyre pressure. Adding weight can affect the performance and handling of your vehicle. You can find these details in your owner’s manual.

Packing luggage on the roof

Many drivers use the roof or roof-racks as a way of carrying very large or awkward items. There are, however, some important warnings to consider:

  • Not all vehicles are created equal – consult the owner’s manual on what is appropriate or not.
  • Be aware that roof loads increase the drag on the car, as well as adding height and weight.
  • Items on the roof should be stored in a securely attached roof box.
  • It’s generally better to carry bulky but light things on the roof and heavy items inside the car.
  • If you are using rope, straps or hooks, ensure that they remain fastened every time you make a rest stop.
  • Check your vehicle’s height with the roof rack packed before you hit the road. Keep a note on the dashboard for when you need to travel under an overpass or through a tunnel.

Packing for safety on the road

  • Pack large, heavy items at the bottom of the boot, keeping them as far forward as possible to keep the centre of gravity low and optimize weight distribution.
  • Packing heavy luggage low and tight can decrease their penetrating power in a road crash.
  • Avoid packing above the line of the back seats as this will obscure your rear view and puts passengers at risk of a serious injury in a collision. If you must use the full height of the boot, invest in a net or other protective screen or safety partition to prevent items from flying forward.
  • Empty boxes or plastic crates can be useful in the boot to stop smaller loads from sliding around.
  • Always have a clear vision of the road and other road users. Poor visibility contributes to many pedestrian deaths and road trauma.
  • You need a clear line of sight through your front windshield and side mirrors and, if possible, through your rear-view mirror and rear window.
  • An obscured rear window makes driving difficult and creates considerable risk when reversing. Without rearward visibility, there is no telling what you might crash into.

“It is best to pack most of our luggage the evening before we depart. This will prevent the thoughtless jamming of luggage into the vehicle when everyone is in a rush.”

Things to avoid

  • Avoid using the inside of the passenger area for storing your luggage. Under emergency braking at 50 km/h, loose items can have a force of up to 50 times their weight. People are frequently hurt or killed by flying objects such as sports equipment during a road crash or vehicle rollover.
  • Keep the area around the driver’s feet clear. Loose items are distracting and dangerous if during an emergency, they slide beneath the driver’s feet and keep the pedals from working properly.

Packing for passenger safety and comfort

When packing, always consider the safety and comfort of passengers that travel with you – both human or animal.

  • Passenger safety always comes first. Passengers must be able to wear their seatbelts and children must be restrained in car seats.
  • Have within easy access essential items that you may need during the journey such as food, drinks, diapers, medicine or entertainment for your kids.
  • Keep a travelling medicine chest within easy reach inside the car.
  • Your emergency medical kit could include Band-Aids, antibacterial ointment, motion sickness medication, frequently used over-the-counter medications, and all medication used by the family.
  • Always have a bottle of water and healthy, energy-boosting foods to avoid dehydration and drowsiness.
  • Have plenty of wipes and hand sanitiser ready.
  • Pack plastic trash bags to keep the environment clean.
  • Have a flashlight handy in the glove compartment or console.
  • Never travel with unsecured pets in the car – use appropriate safety harnesses or travel crates.

Adjusting driving style

The driver of a well-packed and fully loaded vehicle must be able to adjust his driving style to ensure safety on the road:

  • Driving with a fully loaded vehicle affects the power and manoeuvrability of the vehicle.
  • A fully loaded vehicle will require a greater distance for the driver to bring it to a stop.
  • Increase the following distance from the vehicle ahead.
  • Increase vigilance and alertness. Passengers and baggage can lead to an increase in distractions and reduced visibility.
  • Remain alert to the risk of blinding other road users. A fully loaded trunk may cause the back of the vehicle to sag and tilt your headlights too high, blinding oncoming road users. If you are carrying a heavy cargo, consider getting your headlights adjusted slightly downward.
  • Share roads responsibly with an increased alertness to checking blind spots, mirrors and using turn signals when passing, changing lanes and merging.

Before you start the journey, take a few moments to consider whether everything is safely secured. The thoughtful driver is a safer driver!

This safety information was provided by Arrive Alive to promote road safety information. You can read more about pregnancy and safe driving, car seats and booster seats for kids, the law on car seats, and packing the vehicle on their website.