Most American families take their vacations at the end of summer, when the children are almost heading back to school and businesses slow down between summer and fall. "The dog days" of summer are a great time to be out on the open road and a wonderful time to spend with family. But with every other day of the year, having kids means keeping an eye on safety. 
    As you make your summer vacation plans, keep some of the following guidelines about safety in mind. Some will seem like common sense, though possibly some slipped your mind in the whirlwind of details leading up to the big departure date. 

Before leaving home:
-    Get your car checked out by a reliable mechanic or vehicle technician. Make sure the oil is recently changed and the oil filter is in good condition. All belts, brakes, and hoses should also be in good working order. All turning indicators, seatbelts the transmission, and air conditioning should also be functioning properly.
-    Pack plenty of snacks and an icechest full of bottled water. 
-    Bring along compact discs or an MP3 player, as radio stations will fade in and out on long voyages. 
-    Pack a reliable Atlas and/or book of maps, such as from a state highway department, Michelin or Rand McNally. These are usually available in bookstores and in highway visitor's centers.
-    Assemble an emergency kit of jumper cables, a first aid kit, batteries, a flashlight, cell phone recharger (one that fits in your car's cigarette lighter), and tire changing tools.

While Traveling:
-    Follow all highway directions, obey speed limits, and avoid conflict with other drivers.
-    Avoid the "No Zones" of highway trucks and tractor-trailers. These are the blind spots on the back and sides of large cargo trucks. Generally, if you can't see the trucker in his rear view mirror, he can't see you either. More information is available at the Federal Highway Safety Commission's 
-    Take frequent breaks, at least every 2 - 3 hours.
-    Keep everyone buckled up until the vehicle is completely stopped.
-    When stopping at rest areas, gas stations, or restaurants, remain in sight of all family members at all times. 
-    Never leave children alone in the vehicle. 

While At Your Destination:
-    When parking for the night, keep your vehicle in a well-lit area close to your lodging.
-    Make sure all locks and the air conditioning in your hotel or motel room are in good working order
-    Never leave children unaccompanied.
-    Cover up seat belt buckles during the day. The metal can become hot enough to burn the skin. 
-    Arrange a designated "panic place" within the area you're touring, in case a family member becomes separated. 
-    Make a plan to tour your destination in a set pattern, so everyone knows where to look for missing family members. 
-    Bring sunscreen and bottled water with you. 
-    Make sure cell phones are fully recharged each night.
-    Eat a light lunch, so you can tour your destination in the afternoon without feeling sluggish or nauseous. 
-    Carry wallets and cell phones in front pockets, and always wear purses and cameras on shoulder straps.

When returning home, try to leave early in the morning, to allow the maximum amount of daylight time while traveling.