“Can cause serious damage:” AAA urges drivers to safely secure Christmas trees

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FISCHBACH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 08: A man ties a Christmas tree to his car after choosing and cutting it down himself at a forest on December 8, 2012 in Fischbach, Germany. Forestry officials in the state of Saxony officially opened the 2012 Christmas tree season for people who want to retrieve their tree from designated forests rather than just buying it readily cut. (Photo by Joern Haufe/Getty Images)

MILWAUKEE — AAA is reminding all drivers to transport their Christmas trees safely this holiday season.

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.

According to AAA, 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

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.

According to a press release from AAA, 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.