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Top tips for family road trips 

It’s the summer holidays and likely that you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car with the family. Whether, you’re having a staycation or venturing to Europe, take a look at our top tips on how to have a safe and fun summer in the car.

Family driving top tips

Driving abroad

Just when you thought it was challenging enough driving on Britain's roads, now holidaying motorists are being reminded to clue themselves up on European driving laws as the great British summer getaway begins.

If you're a UK motorist heading abroad, it's key to do your homework on the driving laws of the country you intend to drive in. Driving overseas presents a totally different challenge to the roads at home, in terms of both etiquette and rules.

We're here to help guide you through some of the quirkier local rules across the globe...
 
France
Travelling with a breathalyser and warning triangle in your vehicle is compulsory here.
 
If you're using a sat nav, be sure to disable the speed camera-detecting part of it. Why? It's illegal and can result in your car being impounded and your licence confiscated.

Spain
Drivers who usually wear glasses have to carry an extra pair of specs in their vehicle when behind the wheel.

Norway
Car headlights must be on at all times here. Also remember that zero-tolerance drink-drive rules dictate that you can't even have a half-pint before getting behind the wheel.

Cyprus
Consumption of any drink or food is strictly prohibited when driving, so you'll need to pull over if you feel dehydrated and need a drink of water.

Portugal
If you're planning a cycling holiday in Portugal, don't put bikes on the back of your car here - it's illegal.

Finland
It's compulsory to report any accident involving a large animal (elk, reindeer, etc) to local police.

Russia
Unclean cars are literally dirty words to Russian police. They can fine you or have your licence taken away if they deem your car to be too dirty.

Thailand
No matter how hot the day, it's illegal to drive with your top off. If you do, you could face a hefty fine or even a prison term.

Japan
If you're a passenger in a car driven by someone who's had a drink, you could receive the same punishment as the drunk driver. Beware if it rains, as accidentally splashing a pedestrian is also illegal.

Denmark 
The Scandinavian country scoops the prize for having perhaps the most bizarre localised driving custom of all. Each time before you start driving here you must first check underneath your car for sleeping children.

Don't forget... 

  • Several European nations now require drivers to carry headlamp converters, first aid kits and reflective jackets
  • You should check our terms for driving your insured car abroad
  • If you're hiring a car, a DVLA-generated code has replaced the traditional paper licence

Staycations

Staycations are as popular as ever and rightly so. Whether you're in search of dramatic landscapes, romantic villages or captivating coastlines, we have some beautiful countryside right on our doorsteps. Here are some of our favourite routes:
 
A591 Kendal to Keswick
The only road that runs through the heart of the Lake District’s National Park and meanders past no fewer than five lakes on the way, as well as dozens of peaks and meadows.
 
A82 and A83 Loch Lomond to Glencoe
The journey takes you along the water’s edge before leading into the Argyll Forest Park as well as the spectacular Trossachs National Park.  You won’t find more dramatic views from the driver’s seat than this!
 
A39 ‘Atlantic Highway’, North Devon to North Cornwall 
To get a real feel for Britain’s stunning coastline, take the long and winding road along the Atlantic Highway and witness rugged shoreline, whitewashed seaside villages, lush green countryside and Celtic ruins.
 
A3055, Isle of Wight
Known to locals as the Military Road, the route from Chale to Freshwater Bay runs along the cliff edge. At its peaks, you can see the whole coast in front of you and it's National Trust land, so it's completely unspoilt. This beautiful route won't be here forever though - coastal erosion has led to the road being relocated in places.
 
A470 from Conwy to Merthyr Tydfil
Stretching much of the length of Wales, this route travels through two national parks - the Brecon Beacons in the south and Snowdonia national park in the north. It also passes through the beautiful Coed-y-Brenin Forest before climbing 1,170ft to the summit of the Oerddrws Pass in the Cambrian Mountains.
 
A272 from Horsham to Winchester
If quintessential English countryside is what you're after then the A272 is for you. Perfect for meandering along on a summer's day, the route weaves its way through quaint little villages and beautiful market towns, providing excellent spots for lunch or afternoon tea.
 
B3135 from Cheddar to Oakhill
This 14-mile stretch of road is where you’ll find Cheddar Gorge, or should that be Cheddar Gorgeous? Driving this route is challenging, with sharp twists and turns as well as cliff edges, but it’s worth it.
 
B6270 from Downholme to Nateby
Although this 26-mile road is around the same distance as a marathon, there’s nothing arduous about driving it. It takes you on a tour of one of the jewels in the crown of the British countryside – the Yorkshire Dales.
 
B3276, Padstow 
As with many coastal roads, this 13.6-mile route is narrow and bendy, with dips and climbs, but the scenery is stunning. You’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of Cornwall’s seafront and beaches. It does get clogged up with traffic during the holiday season though.
 
‘Cat and the Fiddle’, multiple areas 
Many motorists will tell you that the Cat and the Fiddle is one of the best roads to drive on in the entire country. Located between Buxton and Macclesfield, it’s cunningly named after the Cat and Fiddle Inn at its summit. 


Days out with the kids

It’s no small task to keep the kids entertained for the entire 6-week summer holiday. So we’ve come up with some of the best days out around the country.
 
Alton Towers: Adrenalin junkies can get their fix of hair-raising rides here. And for a total mood change, why not take in some of the scenic roads in the surrounding area? 
Sat-nav postcode: ST10 4DB
 
Chessington World of Adventures: With a theme park, zoo, sea life centre and lots of shows and events, you're sure to find something to entertain the whole family here. Sat-nav postcode: KT9 2NE
 
The Deep: You can explore one of the planet's largest and best aquariums and take a peak at next year's City of Culture at the same time. Hull is well served by nearby motorways (M62 and M18). 
Sat-nav postcode: HU1 4DP
 
Madame Tussauds: Where else could you rub shoulders and even take a selfie with One Direction, Johnny Depp and Kim Kardashian? You can also try taking a penalty with David Beckham or explore the diary room of the Big Brother house. 
Sat-nav postcode: NW1 5LR (But we recommend parking your car outside the congestion zone and using public transport - Baker Street tube station is right next door).
 
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park: Fancy walking with the dinosaurs? Then head to Devon to experience the world's most lifelike dinosaurs. The 28-acre park is also home to exotic birds, meerkats and performing sea lions.  
Sat-nav postcode: EX34 0NG
 
Inveraray Jail: Take the winding, scenic A83 through Argyll to find out how our prisons used to be. Witness fiendish punishments such as the crank machine, which inmates had to turn 14,400 times a day. And we daren't even tell you about the dreaded stool of penitence. Sat-nav postcode: PA32 8TX
 
Portmeirion: Head up the A487 and you'll find an enchanted paradise that can lay claim to being Britain's finest village. Highlights include the Central Plaza and giant chessboard. Sat-nav postcode: LL48 6ET
 

Entertainment

Are we there yet?" No four words fill parents with greater frustration during the summer holidays than this favourite sentence of kids.
 
So how do you keep the children entertained on a long car journey?
 
A poll of 2,000 mums and dads shows that nearly half of us take the easy option and keep the kids occupied with tablets equipped with videos, games and music.
 
Some 46% of parents with kids aged 3-15 say they are reliant on so-called 'technological babysitters' to keep them quiet on long car trips.
 
But you don't necessarily need to have the latest gadgets to keep children amused en route to the seaside. Traditional games are holding their own against high-tech heirs when it comes to keeping children amused, and require little more than a sense of imagination.
 
Car games are a great way to keep everyone entertained on a long journey. They'll make the hours fly by and keep everyone smiling. And if you're really lucky, they might even save you from that dreaded question – "Are we there yet?" Here are some of our favourites…
 
1. Car bingo! 
Everyone in the car picks a colour and then counts the number of cars that drive past in that colour. First person to spot 10 and shout “Car Bingo” wins.
 
2. Spot it 
This is a great game to test those observation skills. Before you set off, create a list of objects for the kids to tick off as they spot them en route. The first to complete their list wins! Depending on their age, the list could range from something as easy as a roundabout to a horse wearing a coat!
 
3. We all went shopping 
This game is a classic that guarantees to get the tongue in a twist! The person who starts says “I went shopping and bought a …”. The second person repeats the first person’s phrase and adds their own item, and on, and on, and on, until someone or everyone forgets who bought what.
 
4. The alphabet game 
Pick a topic - animals, for instance. Start with A, and work your way through the alphabet, letting each person name an animal. To make things more challenging, ask each player to recite all the animals that have been named so far, as they go along.
 
5. Aluminium foil art 
Take along a roll of aluminium foil and let your kids use it to make their own creations during the journey. They could try making jewellery, hats, or even a car...the possibilities are endless!
 
6. Number plate game 
This is a test of quick wits. Look at the letters on the number plate of the next car to pass you. Then try and make a short sentence using these as the first letter of each word in order. For example, SL63 IGH could be "So Long, I'm Going Home". The first one to construct the best, coherent sentence wins.
 
7. 20 questions 
Player 1 thinks of a famous person and the other players ask one question at a time to try and guess who it is. But player 1 can only answer 'yes' or 'no' and the limit is 20 questions. If they haven't guessed by then, player 1 wins!
 
8. Travel bags 
This one takes a little planning in advance, but it's worth it! Fill a tote bag or small carrier bag for each child with books, crayons, colouring books, a note pad, their favourite portable snacks and treats, and a favourite toy. Each child having their own bag will eliminate back seat battles over whose turn it is to use the crayons next!
 
9. Yellow car: You don't have to have the brains of Professor Stephen Hawking to play this one. Kids simply have to shout out "yellow car" when they see a yellow car. The rules vary and could include bonus points for spotting a yellow Mini, but why not stipulate that the first one to 20 wins?
 
10. Road trip bingo: Like normal bingo, except instead of crossing off numbers, you cross off the familiar road sights that are on your card. This could be lorries, trees, dogs, bicycles, mountains, Give Way signs...the choice is yours.


Driving safely with children

They may not always be the most patient or well behaved passengers, but when driving with children in the car, their safety is paramount.

Follow these top tips to safe driving with children:
 
  • Check that your car seat is correctly fitted prior to each journey
  • Ensure that your child's harness is kept at the proper tension and height
  • Remove any thick items of clothing, as these can stop harnesses from properly fitting around your child
  • Semi-recline the car seat so your little one can fall asleep more easily
  • Before a long journey, check that your mobile phone battery is totally charged and take some food and drink supplies
  • Leave sufficiently early to make time for additional breaks
  • Stay particularly alert and undistracted by children when the light starts to fade, as this makes it harder to spot pedestrians and cyclists
  • Take your time.
And when it comes to buying a child car seat, the message is clear: let the experts show you how it's done, or put youngsters at risk of being hurt or even killed.
 
That's the conclusion of a Whatcar.com study, which claims that ignorance is no excuse for not properly installing a safety seat.
 
Four in every five leading retail chains now have on-site specialists who can offer safety demonstrations and advice, the research reveals.

Recommended retailers
Whatcar.com recommends two firms as a result of its undercover mystery shop:
 
  • Mothercare: had in-store experts to offer demos and top tips and could fit the car seat for free
  • Mamas & Papas: did all the above, and even gave customers the chance to book a meeting with an in-store specialist online
 
Despite our love of internet shopping, buying a child car seat online is a dangerous option, as is buying a second-hand seat.
 
It's vital that you take your car and child along to a specialist retailer, who will be able to advise you on the best and safest options.

Car seat confusion 
The law of using car seats is complicated and can be confusing, with many parents admitting they don't know the rules.
 
It seems that a lack of knowledge of child car seats is so widespread that it deters 18% of parents from even using a child seat for their offspring aged between six and 10 years old. And 53% of parents are not told how to install the seat, according to research.
 
Meanwhile, 76% of mothers and fathers are unaware that it’s compulsory for every child under the age of 12 or up to a height of 135cm (4ft 5in) to be placed in child seats.
 
When purchasing or fitting a car seat, it's important to:

  • Base how we purchase a new seat on the height rather than the weight of a child
  • Have little ones facing the rear when they're in the car until they turn 15 months old
  • Provide children with greater protection for their necks and heads, which are particularly vulnerable

For more information on child car seat safety and the law, visit the Good Egg Safety website. And the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has compiled a handy checklist which matches the right child to the right seat.
 
Our road safety partner Brake also has some top tips about installation and correct sitting positions.
 
Happy summer driving!

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