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What says Christmas time more than a fresh cut tree?

Getting that evergreen home, however, can lead to problems.

According to a AAA auto club survey, an estimated 20 million Americans who purchase real Christmas trees do not properly secure them to their vehicles, risking serious vehicle damage, dangerous road debris and in some cases even being pulled over by the police because the driver's view is obstructed.

Christmas trees that are not properly secured can be safety hazards for other motorists, the auto club said in a statement. We join AAA in urging our readers to transport their Christmas trees safely by doing just a little advance planning.

"Not transporting a Christmas tree correctly can be dangerous," said Montrae Waiters, AAA spokeswoman, The Auto Club Group. "It can be a driving distraction, putting your safety and others at risk."

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris ­-- which could include objects such as 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 in recent years.

About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of improperly secured items falling from vehicles.

So, here are a few tips from the foundation:

• 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 toward 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.

Motorists can face some pretty hefty fines if an unsecured tree falls off the vehicle. AAA said every state has laws making it illegal for items to fall from a vehicle while on the road. Drivers can prevent injuries and avoid penalties by properly securing their loads to prevent items from falling off the vehicle just by following the simple steps outlined above.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

-- The Tifton (Ga.) Gazette

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