The Automobile Club of Southern California urges all drivers to transport their Christmas trees safely this holiday season to avoid damaging their vehicle and endangering themselves and others on the road. Those who decorate their home for the holidays should also take steps to avoid creating fire hazards.
According to a new AAA survey, an estimated 20 million Americans who purchased a real Christmas tree in the last three years did not properly secure it to their vehicle, risking serious vehicle damage and dangerous road debris. Vehicle damage that results from an improperly secured Christmas tree, such as scratched paint, torn door seals and distorted window frames, could cost up to $1,500 to repair. In addition to vehicle damage, Christmas trees that are not properly secured are a safety hazard for other drivers.
“Twine that is wrapped around trees and looped through door jambs or open windows can cause serious damage to door seals and window frames,” said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring. “Drivers should never secure a Christmas tree to the top of a vehicle without a roof rack.”
And according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris – which could include objects like improperly secured Christmas trees that fly off cars, landing on the road or on other cars – was responsible for more than 200,000 crashes that resulted in 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths over the past four years. And, about two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of improperly secured items falling from a vehicle.
In California, drivers who allow road debris to fall from their vehicle are responsible for the costs of any damage it causes and can be fined up to $2,000.
Christmas trees can be safely transported by taking the following steps:
- Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck, or an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed.
- Use quality tie downs. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots.
- Protect the tree. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine.
- Protect your vehicle. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
- Point the trunk towards the front. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.
- Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. At the bottom, use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch, to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. The center and top tie downs should be installed in a similar manner.
- Give it the tug test. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.
- Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.
To help Southern Californians reduce the risk of fire or damage in the home during winter holidays, the Auto Club has the following recommendations:
Selecting/maintaining the tree
- Select a fresh tree. Needles should be pliable and hold firm to the tree. Shake the tree or bounce the trunk on the ground to see if the needles fall off.
- Cut a few inches off the bottom of the tree trunk to help it absorb water.
- Place it in a sturdy stand away from heat sources (e.g., radiators, fireplaces, candles, heaters and vents).
- Water it regularly, keeping the water level at least 2 inches above the cut.
Decorating the tree
- Use only lights that have been designated for indoor use and follow manufacturer recommendations for the number of strings of lights that can be strung together.
- Before placing on the tree, check lights for worn or broken wires, broken bulbs, and loose connections. If they are not in good working order, throw them away.
- Do not overload electrical outlets.
- Unplug tree lights when you are not home and while sleeping.
- Place candles in a stable container and do not leave them unattended.
- Keep candles away from drapes and other decorations.
- Keep them in a location where they cannot be knocked down or blown over.
- Do not hang or place flammable decorations around the fireplace when in use.
- Have a good screen in front of your fireplace that is sturdy and covers the entire opening. Some screens with age do not properly close and leave gaps where sparks can escape.
- Do not discard wrapping paper in the fireplace, as it can ignite rapidly and burn intensely.