CINCINNATI, OH—(December 1, 2017)—The mad dash for the perfect tree to deck the halls of homes has begun and while prices are high due to a Christmas tree shortage, ensuring safety while transporting the tree and setting it up is priceless. According to a new AAA survey, an estimated 20 million Americans who purchased a live 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. AAA urges all drivers to transport their Christmas trees safely this holiday season.
“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 Jenifer Moore, AAA spokeswoman. “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.
Fortunately, 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.
Drivers can face hefty fines and penalties as well as jail time if an unsecured tree falls off their vehicle. Currently every state has laws that make it illegal for items to fall from a vehicle while on the road. Most states’ penalties result in fines ranging from $10 and $5,000, with at least 16 states listing jail as a possible punishment for offenders. Drivers can prevent injuries and avoid penalties by properly securing their loads to prevent items from falling off the vehicle.
Preventing Holiday Mishaps at Home
Christmas tree safety doesn’t stop while on the road. Once home with the perfect tree, families should also be proactive to prevent household mishaps. Fires caused by Christmas trees and decorations can lead to fatalities, millions of dollars in damage and put a damper on the holiday spirit.
Between 2011-2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 200 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees, according to a study by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These fires caused an average of six deaths, 16 injuries, and $14.8 million in direct property damage annually. The study also found that electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in two of every five (40 percent) of home Christmas tree fires.
“It is very easy to become distracted around the home during the holidays with kids out of school, planning shopping lists and entertaining guests,” added Moore. “However it is important to remember common safety measures to protect families and homes from potentially dangerous fires.”
Winter holiday fires by the numbers
- On average, one of every 32 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 143 total reported home fires.
- In one-quarter (26 percent) of the Christmas tree fires and in 80 percent of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
- Forty-two percent of reported home Christmas tree fires occurred in December and 37 percent were reported in January.
- More than one-third (37 percent) of home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.
AAA recommends the following tips to protect your home from a holiday fire:
- Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2” from the base of the trunk.
- Water your tree daily. Dried out trees are a greater fire hazard than trees that are properly watered.
- Keep trees at least three feet away from fireplaces, candles, heating vents or lights.
- Use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Use the correct type of lights for the location. Some lights are intended only for indoor use, while others are to be used outdoors.
- Inspect your lights before hanging them. Replace any lights with worn or frayed wires and loose or cracked bulbs.
- Unplug your lights and decorations before going to bed or leaving the house.