You’re expecting me to say something about drink-driving here, aren’t you? Well, I’m not. At least not yet, because it seems that an unheralded and somewhat unlikely danger on our (Christmas) roads has arisen. Christmas trees.
Yes, tis the season and all that but it would seem that too many of us are going out and bringing home festive forestry and aren’t securing it properly within or on top of our cars before setting off.
I know this sounds a bit jocular, but actually it’s a serious issue of car safety and one that’s useful for highlighting the added dangers of driving on the road at Christmas.
Allianz Insurance just recently conducted a crash test with an actual Christmas tree, and found that not properly strapping it down can have disastrous consequences, not only for the driver but for other road users as well.
Fastening a Christmas tree to a car
After buying their Christmas tree, the happy shoppers often stand in front of their cars wondering how they're going to get their fine piece of timber back home.
The Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) demonstrated the dangers of transporting Christmas trees in a recent crash test. "Regardless of anything else, you've got to fasten the tree so tightly that it can't move. Otherwise when you slam the brakes on, it presents a danger for the driver, passengers and other road users," explains AZT accident analyst Melanie Kreutner. Just bundling the tree into the car and letting the excess poke out of the open side windows isn't a solution either. Nor is positioning it in the passenger seat of your car, or if you have a convertible driving with the top down with the tree riding shotgun.
In the Allianz crash test, the Allianz Center for Technology simulated a forward collision where a vehicle traveling at 50km/h crashed into a stationary car. The outcome? If the tree is only fastened with elastic expanders (elastic rope with hooks on both ends), it isn't held securely enough and can fly off the roof - putting the occupants of the car in front in danger.
"A roof luggage rack is the only sensible way to transport a large Christmas tree safely," recommends Melanie Kreutner. "The tree must be tightly secured so that it won't move when you brake and doesn't become a dangerous missile in the event of a collision.”
As the crash test showed (and you can see a video of it here: http://bit.ly/1xPNPUb), the normal elastic expanders just aren't good enough. The best way to secure the tree to the roof rack is to use a rigging strap." The rigging strap (a strap made of un-elasticated material with fasteners) is then fastened around both the crosspiece of the roof rack and the tree trunk. A strap also needs to be tied around the top of the tree, to prevent it sliding sideways.
Safely securing a Christmas tree inside your car
If you need to transport the tree inside your car, you can just make sure it's the right size to fit in your car – or vice versa. Folding down the back seats massively increases the space you can use. A protrusion over the rear bumper of up to 3 meters in length is permitted. A protrusion of over one meter must always be marked with a red warning flag. And even inside the car, the tree must be fastened down to prevent it slipping out of place. And don’t forget that this applies equally if you're bringing the tree for recycling in early January. Just because all the needles are now on your hall carpet doesn’t make it any less of a dangerous projectile in an accident.
Now all of this, as I said, sounds a bit silly and frivolous. But there is serious intent here as there’s simply no question that the yuletide season is still one of the most dangerous on our roads. The longest hours of darkness combined with human frailty (rushing to get the last bit of shopping, allowing yourself one extra drink at the office party, bringing the kids out on dark roads to see the Christmas lights…) can make the simple task of getting about so much more dangerous than at other times of the year. Last year in December, there was a sudden spiked increase of road deaths compared to a relatively safe 2012 – five more people were killed on the roads in December 2013 than December 2012.
There’s no such thing as a good accident but the time of year just serves to amplify any potential tragedy or injury, so let’s all take care to take care of each other. Slow down, stay off the drink and please, please be careful. Whether you’re bringing home the tree, the dinner or the presents, remember you are as responsible for the safety of those around you as you are for yourself.
The car buying business will slow down considerably between now and January 1st, but let’s all try and stay safe till then – then we can all get back to doing what we love best in 2015; talking about, researching, buying, selling and history-checking cars.