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Transporting that perfect Christmas tree safely home

Thanksgiving has passed and the Christmas season is in full effect. Families now are searching for a Christmas tree. News reports indicate interest in real trees is up this holiday season.

But transporting that perfect tree home can be problematic. AAA is reminding drivers this holiday season to properly secure and transport their real Christmas trees so everyone can safely enjoy the holidays.

“Real Christmas trees can become dangerous projectiles if not properly secured,” said Adrienne Woodland, spokeswoman for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “Drivers who do not safely secure their Christmas tree risk damaging their vehicle and littering the roadway with dangerous debris.”

Previous research from AAA found that road debris — which can include objects such as improperly secured Christmas trees that fly off cars, landing on the road or on other cars — caused more than 200,000 crashes during a four-year period, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.

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.

It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack, but a pickup truck, SUV, van or minivan can work just as well.

Some tips from AAA on safely shopping for a real Christmas tree amid COVID-19 precautions —

— Do not visit a tree lot if anyone from the family has tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-related symptoms.

— Call the lot ahead of time and ask about policies for visiting. It is possible they may have reduced operating hours or are limiting the amount of people who can visit the lot at one time. It is also a good idea to ask when they are slow and plan to visit then, when crowds may be smaller.

— Although most lots are outdoors, wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing still are recommended. Bring hand sanitizer and keep it nearby while shopping.

For getting that tree safely home —

— Wrap and cover: Have the lot wrap it in netting before loading. Loose branches also can be secured with rope or twine to help protect the tree from damage. Before loading the tree, cover the roof with an old blanket to prevent scratches to the paint and protect the car from any damage.

— Trunk first: Place the tree on the roof rack or in the bed of the truck with the trunk facing the front of the car. If the vehicle does not have a roof rack and is large enough, place the tree inside.

— Secure it: Tie down the tree at the bottom, center and top using strong rope or nylon ratchet straps. Avoid using the nylon offered by many tree lots. Use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop the rope or strap around the tree trunk above a branch to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement.

— Tug test: Once tied down, give the tree several strong tugs from various angles to make sure it is secured in place and will not come loose.

— Nice and easy: Drive slowly and take back roads if possible. Higher speeds can create significant airflow that can damage the tree or 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. 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 to $5,000, with at least 16 states listing jail as a possible punishment for offenders.

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