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On the road

There’s something exceptional about the 2019 holiday season, aside from being the last one of the decade.

About a third of Oregonians decided to leave home this year — a new record, according to research from the American Automobile Association.

“This whole holiday period is going to be busy ... when you have this many people traveling,” said Marie Dodds, spokeswoman for AAA’s Oregon/Idaho region.

Of the estimated 1.4 million Oregonians who planned to travel 50 miles or more from home, 1.3 million — 93% — indicated they would drive, the research said.

With so many traveling by car in the cold, accidents and malfunctions are more likely to strike. But experts in vehicle maintenance, crash response and law enforcement offered tips to help drivers to stay protected during their holiday journeys.

From keeping the car running to safely dealing with a fender bender, here are some ways to keep spirits bright when setbacks befall you.

Do an energy check

Many might consider their tires, or maybe their antifreeze, when driving long distances in winter weather. But another vital piece of equipment can also remind drivers of their limits during the colder months: car batteries.

The typical lifespan of a car battery is about three to five years. Like any battery, especially if it’s older, extreme temperatures could cause it to quit.

To avoid the pitfall of a dead battery on departure day, you can test your battery in advance. AutoZone will do that for free, including the alternator and starter, all while they’re still on your car. California is the exception, where you’ll have to bring them into the store.

AAA members can schedule a free appointment with a battery technician who will test the battery, alternator and starter.

The technician will haul away an old battery for you, and AutoZone stores will accept an old battery.

Dodds said most people don’t think about their batteries until the moment they stop working. In addition to the battery’s age, she said, drivers should consider the volume of electricity consumed by charging devices, using navigation or watching movies.

“Cars have so many more electronics and advanced driver assistance programs,” she said. “The batteries have a lot to do.”

Keep cool after a crash

Sergio Mendoza, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s incident responder for Jackson County, knows that even a fender bender can cause significant stress for drivers.

“It’s not always how big the incident is, but the person and what they’re going through,” he said.

As he assists with traffic flow and helping drivers, Mendoza knows the biggest threats to safety in the aftermath of a crash.

If drivers find themselves in a crash that doesn’t incapacitate them or their vehicle, for example, Mendoza said they should know that Oregon’s “Move It” law requires the involved cars be moved from the roadway.

Failure to comply could result in a class C traffic violation.

Lt. Mike Budreau with the Medford Police Department said drivers sometimes think crashes should be left undisturbed, like crime scenes.

While that’s true for serious injury crashes, he said, the cars should be moved in more minor cases — the law specifies moving the vehicles “as close to the accident scene as possible.”

Budreau also recommended that drivers have a game plan for exchanging information with any others involved in a minor crash.

A good approach, he said, is “to be more thorough than not.”

Budreau recommended calling law enforcement if you want the crash to be investigated. Medford police almost always have officers able to respond, though in more rural areas or on the interstate, that might be less likely.

Law enforcement can’t investigate after the fact if drivers provide false information about insurance or the vehicle.

To avoid getting scammed, ask to take photos of IDs and insurance forms rather than copying them down, Budreau said. Confirm what information you can at the scene.

You may have to file an accident report with the Department of Motor Vehicles in some circumstances. More information can be found at https://bit.ly/361Khap.

For safety, no spectating

Drivers who aren’t involved in a crash, but who encounter one during their journeys, also can benefit from a game plan to stay safe.

Mendoza has seen a number of what he called “secondary crashes,” caused when oncoming drivers don’t realize something is unfolding ahead of them.

“For the firefighter who parks his engine and has to go do patient care or work on a vehicle fire or brush fire, they’re always worried about traffic behind them,” he said.

Slowing down in response to lighted signs, flares or other signals that incident managers stage at crash scenes can help prevent further damage.

The state’s “Move Over” law requires drivers to move to non-adjacent lanes where possible, or slow down to five miles below the posted speed limit, when approaching a police, fire or ambulance vehicle from the rear. The same is true for any vehicle stopped and displaying hazard lights.

In addition to safety, obeying this law helps your wallet: the fine for violating it is $265; that jumps to $525 in a safety corridor, school or work zone.

Recording video of crashes, which Mendoza said he sees more often lately, also is dangerous.

“We’d like to see less of that,” he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Sergio Mendoza, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s incident responder for Jackson County sets up a mock situation in White City. (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)