By Tony Whitney

A recent national survey conducted by research company Goodmind LLC and sponsored by DaimlerChrysler Canada revealed that more than half of all Canadians are planning to drive more than 200 km to visit with family and friends during the holiday season. The study also revealed that new vehicle safety standards, entertainment features and comfort enhancements have made longer road trips far more desirable for the traveller than ever before, even if gas prices have risen steeply.

66 per cent of adults find road trips more enjoyable now than when they were kids, according to the survey, and 58 per cent wished their earlier vehicle had either a DVD video system (33 per cent) or a navigation system (25 per cent).

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I remember from the family trips of my childhood that our humble Ford sedan lacked even a basic radio unit. My folks, bless ’em, never having been audiophiles in even the remotest sense. How times have changed!

70-per cent of people surveyed say they are willing to drive up to 750-km to avoid an air trip – a reflection, perhaps, of chaotic airport conditions and delays, rather than the airlines themselves. I’d be happy to drive at least 1000 km to avoid even a short flight, and often do. Again according to the survey, slightly more than two in five adults (44 per cent) prefer driving over flying regardless of travel distance.

DaimlerChrysler offers some useful advice for families travelling with kids. Each child should have its own bag for “essential toys, books and entertainment” and it should be safely stowed. According to studies, rear mounted DVD systems can do more than entertain the children – they can help prevent car-sickness by keeping passengers oriented in the same direction as the vehicle. In fact, any “eyes straight ahead” game like I Spy or books-on-tape is better than reading for kids prone to car-sickness.

Other advice from DaimlerChrysler includes some modification of driving habits to suit conditions. A lot of fuel can be saved by keeping to the speed limit, rather than cranking it up and guessing how much leeway the local police are likely to give you. This time of the year is expensive enough without adding hundreds of dollars in speeding ticket fines. Use of the cruise control is a good way of maintaining a steady, reasonable, speed.

Of course, any vehicle should be properly serviced before any major trip. Even a basic “winter check-up” is a good idea and many service departments offer these at this time of the year. This is not the season to be stranded out on the highway somewhere because you skipped a pre-trip service. Towing companies can hardly be blamed for charging more for their services on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Eve.

Poor weather can also complicate matters in the tire department, so make sure they all get a full inspection at a dealer or tire specialist.

Other points to consider before a trip (familiar stuff to regular readers of this column) include checking tire pressures, removing unwanted weight from the vehicle (no summer tires stowed in the back!), maintaining a well-tuned engine, taking off cargo carriers, bike racks and the like that aren’t going to be used and making sure the air filter is nice and clean.

Some interesting statistics from the survey, which involved 1044 adult respondents 18 or older, include the fact that 79-per cent of families with children go on two or more road trips a year – which means that parents take an average of 36-per cent more trips annually than adults without kids. Families spend an average of ten hours packing for road trips and of course, parents spend much longer on this chore than those with no kids to worry about. The poll revealed, incidentally, that the two most valued elements of today’s road trips are safety and entertainment systems.

And the two most forgotten items when preparing for a road trip? According to the survey, 25-per cent leave their cameras or video recorders behind and 21-per cent head off without a toothbrush or toilet kit. And I thought it was just me that always had to buy toiletries and disposable cameras on the road!

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