Hey, what’s your hurry?

The road to Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island. / Photo by Christopher Elliott
I don’t know what I was thinking when I tried to drive 1,100 miles in a straight shot.

Was I trying to set a new land-speed record? Or had I just forgotten that everyone needs to sleep (yes, even the truckers pulled over at the Walmart parking lot Valdosta, Ga., at 3 a.m.)?

I didn’t fully grasp the absurdity of driving 20 hours non-stop until one of my friends said something about it on Facebook.

“What about the kids?” he asked. “Is that legal?”

Well, what about them? They’re not driving, I replied.

But that kind of missed the point. Trying to drive from Branson, Mo., to Orlando without stopping for the night isn’t that uncommon, and it is the darker side of the great American road trip; the side that doesn’t get a lot of press until someone falls asleep at the wheel and crashes.

In 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, the government reported 3,092 fatalities related to distracted driving, which, for reasons too complicated to go into, you can’t compare to the previous year (the feds changed their methodology). That’s a lot of preventable highway deaths.

What’s your hurry?

I was surprised to learn that for some readers, the marathon road trip was almost a rite of passage.

I spoke with people who had made a similar drive solo. Before we left Breckenridge, Colo., on the next-to-last leg of our family travel project, we ran into a friend who was trying to drive from Denver to Kansas City. Overnight. In freezing rain.

She survived.

Driving 1,100 miles isn’t as big a deal as it might sound. Grant Petty remembers a road trip from South Florida to Louisville that he did alone. I first profiled him in a column a year ago when I wrote about how Americans preferred road trips.

“When I hit the Georgia border about eight hours later, I felt good, so I thought I’d drive a little farther,” he says. “When I hit Atlanta, I still felt fine, and decided to drive a little farther. When I hit Nashville at 11 p.m., I began to feel tired, but decided to drive through, since by this time I was so close to home.”

By the time he arrived in Louisville — 20 hours and 1,207 miles later — “I had the air conditioner on full blast, the windows down, and the radio at max volume,” he remembers.

But that’s no record. Here’s a guy who did 1,500 miles in just over 24 hours.

Kids, don’t try this.

Every now and then you’ll see signs that say, “What’s your hurry?” which are nothing more than oblique warnings of an approaching speed trap. But after last week’s road trip, I read them a little differently. What, exactly, is our hurry?

As one reader chided, “You’re missing so much of our great country. What’s the rush?”

Ah, that’s the real question — why hurry?

Maybe it’s the fact that in our 24/7, always-on society, vacations are a scarce commodity. That, somehow, we have convinced ourselves that the time to stop and smell the roses is after we retire.

I have a different perspective on the issue. I’m self-employed, and I don’t believe there will be any Social Security net for me to land in when I “retire.” So I’m seeing everything I can now, while I’m still relatively young and I have kids, because when I’m 64, I’ll probably still be part of the labor pool.

We rush from one place to the next because there’s not a moment to spare. It’s quite the contrast from the place I grew up, where the month-long vacation in August was almost sacred. (You guessed it, I grew up in Europe.)

That’s ridiculous!

Sometimes, the most ridiculous things about travel aren’t done to us; instead, we do them to ourselves. For more than two years, I’ve been writing about the absurd things inflicted on us by the travel industry. But consider for a moment the ridiculousness of spending 20 hours in a car with three kids.

We sped through the beautiful Ozark Mountains, blew past Memphis, Tenn., cut through some of the most scenic parts of Mississippi and Alabama and at around midnight, we crossed the Georgia state line, where the only things visible to us were the lights of the oncoming cars and the occasional exit.

It isn’t that the kids were confined to a small space for almost a full day. If we ever make it to New Zealand, they’ll have to endure a similarly long trip. It’s that they missed so many terrific opportunities to see the real America along the way, and that’s my fault.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • jmtabb

    I drove Seattle-San Francisco alone in one really long day. Like someone else mentioned, I’d aim for a certain town, then realize that I felt fine and would keep going to the next. Then at about hour 14 I realized I was close to a comfortable bed and just pushed to get all the way there.

    I’ve also done plenty of drives where I have stopped at every historical marker and state park. I like those drives too.

    Sometimes the journey is the destination, and it’s worthwhile to slow down and smell the roses. But sometimes the journey is just a really long drive through northern Nevada and you just have to get to the other side.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’ve done five Cannonball Runs, in the 90s before everyone had a cell phone and GPS.

    Yeah. I was pretty stupid.
    But hey, that’s what college is all about.

  • backprop

    I don’t think driving far in one shot is necessarily driving too fast. Sometimes there is literally just no place to stay near your preferred endpoint. As beautiful as our country is, there are plenty of many-hundreds of mile stretches of nondescript rural towns containing a Sonic and Dollar General that simply hold no charm or comfort for a traveler.

  • Dave_D70

    I usually end up doing 1-2 1500+ mile road trips a couple times a year – and sometimes it gets to be a pain when you hit the 12-hour mark.

    THE most annoying trip was when I pulled into the town where I’d booked a hotel for some planned shuteye before starting on the final homebound leg in the morning. Somehow the reservation I’d made a week before got cancelled and the property was full – they walked me to the sister property next door and which was full too. Knowing what weekend it was and that it was a college town, the odds of finding a room in town were not favorable.

    Nothing for it but to stock up on Dew and hoof it the last couple hunnert miles (normally under 4 hours but it took me at least 6 since I ended up having to pull over at each rest stop for a quick nap). Needless to say, I was pretty aggravated when I called the hotel a couple days later. They did some checking and claimed “my wife” called to cancel – what?! I’m single! They did make me whole, however.

  • BillCCC

    I am not trying to come across as a ninny(maybe too late) but at the 20 hour mark you are putting your family and others in danger.

  • Timothy Arnold

    Growing up, my family would drive to the Grand Canyon, Washington DC, Ohio, Toronto, etc from Dallas. We would wind our way through the state, seeing tons of historic markers, the largest statue of a Road Runner in the world, Car Henge near El Paso, and millions of other things that made the trips memorable. And LONG. While I loved traveling and seeing the country, these trips were sometimes two or three weeks long.

    I adore traveling, but do it much differently now. in 2012, I have flown over 100,000 miles and been in 12 countries. I will travel somewhere for work, and manage to cram in as much sightseeing as possible. A few months ago, I went to Hong Kong and Macao, each for only one night. 44 hours total in transit, and was in the two countries for 60 hours total. However, by exceptional planning and and sleeping the bare minimum, I experienced a ton of both places.

    But I also enjoy driving places, and prefer driving to flying if it is under 5 hours or so. Check out an audio book from the library with the open road in front of me, and it will be a great trip. I recently drove from Dallas to Little Rock to have lunch with a client. Afterwards, I went to the Clinton Library, the high school, and stopped to have dinner with my sister who lived along the route. Flying would have been faster, but on the way back, there was no need for speed, and I was able to enjoy the journey. There are times for haste, and there are times to take your time.

  • http://www.deltapoints.com/ DeltaPoints.com

    One of the BIG reasons to collect points so you can get a FREE hotel night along the way (even better yet fly FREE on points and skip the car totally)!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I started laughing when you said you’d “blown past Memphis, Tenn.” My experiences driving in Tennessee involve long acquaintance with the same taillights surrounding me for long, long stretches of time.
    Seriously, though, I think you’ve taken yourself to task far better than anyone else could have.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Your definition of “rural” and mine must be different. A Sonic means a fairly sizable population where I’m from. Anything beyond a grain elevator, a church steeple and a corner bar (on the only “corner”) is a plus. :)

  • NakinaAce

    I drove from Dallas, Texas to Boca Raton, Florida non-stop a few years ago. Occasionally I would get off the Interstate and drive the back roads, windows down part of the time, lots of coffee but really it wasn’t a problem. I still routinely drive between my home in South Florida and my farm in North Carolina non-stop and alone and I am 65 years old.

  • cjr001

    The hurry is because some of us actually have to work for a living, and if we want to actually see something at our destination, then we need to not waste time getting there. :)

    Not to mention, I grew up in the Midwest and now live in the West, and I can say quite confidently that half of this country is empty with little to see. For example, once you’ve seen a corn field in Illinois, you don’t really need to see one in Iowa, Nebraska, and so on. So why shouldn’t one hurry when there’s nothing to see for miles on end?

    “If we ever make it to New Zealand, they’ll have to endure a similarly long trip.”

    Fly Air New Zealand, they’re awesome. But even if you don’t, New Zealand is worth every minute you’ll spend on a plane getting to/from there.

  • 219kimrod

    Unless you are sharing the driving – some asleep while another drives – it is irresponsible and extremely dangerous to you, your passengers, and other vehicles. Grow up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.kolker Jeff Kolker

    Drove from Tulsa Oklahoma to Halifax Nova Scotia in 2.5 to 3 days. The New England autumn was beautiful…as I went through it. Drove from Vegas to Tulsa in one shot. Sometimes, circumstances dictate the need to not stop.

  • StarKiller

    1500 miles? Three days, two motels. You don’t need comfort, you need a bed, a shower and a place to eat.

  • backprop

    I’m talking the big towns!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Some of the best food you’ll ever have comes in tiny towns that you’d miss if you blinked. I thought that by definition “charm” meant something smaller and less glitzy than a huge city. And it certainly isn’t worth killing yourself or some other innocent traveler in a quest to try and find a slightly nicer hotel hours down the road.

  • S E Tammela

    By the time you are blasting air con, winding down windows, turning up radio, singing, downing cola or whatever, you have already missed a LOT of very subtle signals that you’re a split second from falling asleep. The very first ones are feeling “restless”, feeling your eyes wander (looking at the trees, the gutter, the sky), or feeling completely bored. These happen before the yawning and before you actually feel tired, but they signal that your brain is tired of concentrating.

    Your eyes don’t have to feel droopy and you don’t need to feel exhausted to fall asleep – your brain will eventually switch off, your eyes might even be still wide open, but you will stop seeing.

    Pull over, get out and jog three times around your car. Better still, pull over and either sleep or go for a walk. It’s not worth it, people. Plan to stop every two hours (at least) even if all you do is take a five-minute stretch.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The down vote you received is humorous to me. Because somebody could actually argue that solo driving straight through a thousand miles is perfectly safe?

  • Jim Daniel

    I rode with someone who made the S.F. Bay Bridge to downtown Seattle in 9 hours flat. NEVER AGAIN. That trip has a ton of great places to stop for coffee, quick meals and one good nights sleep.

    I don’t often stop to take pictures any more, who wants to see “My Trip to Alturas” shots, but I stop to see the view myself. Having been a real Traveling Salesman for many years, covering Northern Calif. to Canada, I plan to drive 1 to 2 hours and stop. It may be a stop to get something to drink or use the restroom, but it is a definite stop. A STOP is when you shut off the car and get out, lock it up and go inside somewhere. At times it was just stop and run around the car three times.

    I am also a proponent of the Power Nap. I have learned to go immediately to sleep in the front seat. Set a timer for LESS THAN 30 minutes so not to go into REM sleep, and wake up refreshed for several more hours. I carry a small pillow and eye mask so folks don’t think I’ve just passed out. (tap tap on the window – are you OK?)

  • Cynthia Kruger

    I drove from Denver to SF several times when I was in Uni . . . but today about the longest (time wise) I will drive is a max of 7 hours–most drives are 5 to 6 hours. Today I am also very aware that the RV (truck camper combo) I’m piloting is a different animal than the Camaro I drove Denver to SF. Besides as you noted there is much to see and enjoy along the way!

  • backprop

    No, when I’m on a long road trip (not “killing” anybody or myself; I’m wide awake) with a destination in mind, I’m not going to stop in one of ten thousand bumps in the road with maybe a few questionable rooms for rent. This doesn’t preclude ALL small downs; as I said, nondescript rural nothingness is what I tend to skip. No need to be hyperbolic or take it personally.

  • Bill___A

    Just don’t drive when you are too tired to drive. Period.

  • D3343

    I went to a college 850 miles from my home town in 1970, and stayed here. I’ve done that stretch to home hundreds of times in the 43 years I’ve been here and my family there, for weddings, funerals, and visits, the last time being 2 days ago. I’ve most always driven straight through. When my kids were young we’d leave in our van in the evening, they’d fall asleep and my wife and I would switch off. She’d blab to the truckers on the CB, and they were always happy to talk to a woman. When the kids woke up we’d be pretty close to there. Once during a blizzard, -20° F and 25 mph winds, we got stuck in a truck stop in Iowa on Christmas Eve for 24 hours until they reopened the road. We were prepared with food, drink, sleeping bags and even a bucket for the kids to pee in. Nowadays if driving alone I’ll sometimes leave late
    afternoon and stop at midnight to sleep in the back of my Subaru wagon
    for 6 hours or so. An audio book in .mp3 form fits on one CD, and on a recent trip I listened to The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest all the way there and most of the way back. An audio book, some sandwiches and Cokes and a Red Bull or two and I’m good to go, and I still rather enjoy it. On the other hand, one of my favorite trips was a 4-week road trip in our pickup camper a few years ago, to Idaho, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta and Montana. We went where and when we pleased, some days not driving at all.

  • jerryatric

    I’m 74 now & still make a 1500 mile road trip in 2 days. That’s my maximum. I should explain it’s on I 5 running from Washington State to Redding, Ca. on the first leg. Lot’s of traffic, & going through the mountains at night makes it really tough.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Many years ago, about two weeks after my youngest was born, my husband and I took the kids to visit the grandparents, driving from Denver to Memphis. Before the trip, my husband was all about, “We’ll take turns driving, it’ll be great, the kids will sleep on the overnight part…”

    Nope, that’s not how it worked out at all. First, this is a 24 hour drive. Second, my husband is the one who slept FAR more than the rest of us. Third, the kids DID NOT sleep at all. Fourth, it wasn’t great.

    Since that trip, I have a hard, fast rule that we no longer do marathon trips and I REFUSE to drive more than 9 hours on any day. Period. It was that trip, so long ago, that taught me, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey” and since implementing this rule I enjoy traveling by car SO much more.

    Since that time, we now make frequent stops on road trips to see things we might not have seen otherwise, like kitchy little gift shops, the log cabin Abraham Lincoln grew up in, Laura Ingall’s home in Missouri, Monticello, and so many others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11602199 facebook-11602199

    I live in New Mexico, a very large state (I think we are the 5th largest by land-mass) and yet, there are so many little towns that I’ve blown past on the Interstate as I drive to Denver or to Texas or out west. I’m sure there are tons of interesting things in these towns and villages I blow past, but I’ve never made the time to stop. It always seems that I am on a timeline to get somewhere by a certain time, and thus never have time to stop and smell the flowers so to speak.

  • JenniferFinger

    Well, once I drove from Agoura to San Francisco on the PCH in one day…although I stopped at Hearst Castle. I don’t think I’d do it again-I’d try to plan for enough time to get from A to B without hurrying.

  • Howardchang79

    I don’t think you need to slow down when traveling as long as you are both enjoying yourself Nd you are staying safe.

  • Charlie Funk

    Sometimes circumstances dictate whether you stop or not. In the dark ages when gas was 30 dents a gallon, I drove such a cannonball run because I didn’t have the money to pay for a room and credit cards were a novelty. Thank God McDonald’s singles were 15 cents as well and water was free. I reached my destination with 28 cents. One does what one must do. All of life is a measured risk. Fighter pilots don’t get tired.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    I guess the driving straight through depends on where you’re driving. I mean, if you’re driving through the desert, then yeah…nothing to see or do, speed right along as fast as possible..even in the High Sierras…I remember years ago driving from the Denver Airport in Colorado to Sidney Nebraska, a 3 hour trip in some of the most boring roads I have ever seen! Without paying attention, it was no problem to discover that I was zooming down the road at speeds above 80 mph.
    But several years ago when we took a road trip to Treasure Island Florida from Northern Virginia…sure, this trip can be done in a day and I’ve known people who have actually done it…but we decided to spend some time and see places we have never been to, and overnighted in Myrtle Beach SC, Savannah GA and Jacksonville FL on the way down. and took another 3 days driving home. We stopped in Tallahassee FL, Atlanta GA and Knoxville TN. We discovered that we really liked Savannah and Knoxville…and plan on vacationing there in the future.

    We even do this for flights as well.
    One year on the way to Hawaii, we had a layover in San Francisco. I asked the travel agent if she could extend our layover to 6 hours. We took that 6 hours and toured the city to see if it’s a place we will want to vacation in the future.
    This is how *WE* vacation…kinda multi-tasking….go on vacation, see if there are other places to visit for future vacations!


    Is there some reason your wife doesn’t help with the driving? My husband and I are driving across the country in January, seems to me, it will be safer and more enjoyable to share the driving, though we plan on only driving ~500 or so miles a day. Still…share.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Kari and I take turns driving. But a long drive like that can still suck it out of you.

  • Dcochran3

    I remember driving 47 hours straight from New York City to San Francisco in 1966; only had two weeks of vacation. I had spent all my time seeing the country while driving eastward and had to get back to work. Even got a brake job in Wyoming; cars weren’t as rugged but young guys were.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I really enjoyed walking in Little Rock past Central High School just as school was getting out, and seeing how much we as a nation have progressed in 50 years; teenagers of all colors and backgrounds walking and talking with each other. The walk also took us past the Clinton Library. Glad to see someone else appreciates actually seeing other places, rather than just getting to and through them.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    But we have the most sincere corn fields. And pumpkin patches. :)

  • y_p_w


    I’ve stopped at Sonic locations in the middle of Nowheresville, including Cedar City, Utah and Kayenta, Arizona. The latter location had less than your description.


  • y_p_w

    I can see corn fields in California just fine thank you. No need for me to drive all the way to the Midwest for that.

  • y_p_w

    Maybe not fighter pilots these days, but bomber pilots on 12 hour runs are issued amphetamines (AKA “Go Pills”) just in case they start dozing off. That’s closer to driving long distances than fighter jets.

  • y_p_w

    I would do that on longish trips, but my wife hates driving. She won’t even go 50 miles. The time we were on a longish road trip, I did almost all the driving because she didn’t feel confident driving on the freeway more than 10 miles.

  • EdB

    One thing I have noticed in my travels while driving was some of the States have laws prohibiting people from sleeping in rest stops or limiting you time to an hour or two. I always found this contrary to the idea of a rest area, i.e. a place to rest. I can understand them wanting to limit “over night” camping, but some of these rules seem to go far beyond that. Those types of rules push people back out onto the roads before they should be back out. I can’t remember where it was (been too long) but I even saw one that prohibited sleeping in your car!

  • EdB

    Fighter pilots get them too. Probably more often even.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    New Zealand ?
    Haven’t you heard ? There’s around 1200 sheep for every man, woman & child in NZ (that’s not counting the millions of kiwis living overseas especially in Australia), so you can’t drive anywhere fast, unless you’re into eating road kill (ie sheep).

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Pfff. Google says Kayenta, AZ is a “census-designated place” of 13.2 square miles, population 5,189 as of the 2010 census and has its own airport. A veritable metropolis!

    Your picture deserves an up vote, though.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Another tip… if it’s nighttime, drive with your car’s interior light(s) on. I don’t know why, but it works!

  • EdB

    Actually, that can be very dangerous. The white light from the dome can ruin your night vision and decrease your ability to see what’s on the road ahead. There is a reason the lights used on the dash are red, greens, and blues.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Not sure what you consider a long road trip to be, but the basic point of Chris’ article was that everybody who ends up falling asleep at the wheel thinks they’re perfectly fine driving a few more miles. And my experience is the nondescript nothingness is where that’s the most likely. A questionable room beats a hospital bed any day.

  • y_p_w

    It’s perfectly OK in California up to 8 hours.


    They recommend the commercial drivers pull into a rest area and at least take a nap.


    However, one is supposed to park in an authorized space. Once I was stopping at a rest area (the last one in the San Francisco Bay Area) where I noticed a long line of sleeper cabs parked along the off ramp. Several were in an area that was marked for truck parking, but that area was full and there were maybe 3 or 4 beyond that spot. The ones beyond the designated parking area were partially blocking the ramp that led to the auto parking area/restrooms/vending machines/etc. There was also a California Highway Patrol officer knocking on doors and waking up drivers since they were illegally parked.

    I believe they could have found a truck stop, or perhaps a Wal-Mart in the area, where each manager might have a policy allowing RVs and trucks to park overnight.

  • y_p_w

    We were going from Moab, Utah to the Grand Canyon. We actually stopped at several locations on the Navajo Reservation on the way. In many ways it was a little bit sad seeing all the poverty among the Navajo. A lot of Navajo who couldn’t afford A/C were holing up in the fast food restaurants – maybe buying one item and staying for hours. It didn’t seem that management was too concerned as long as they weren’t bothering the other customers.

    As far as this area in Kayenta goes, there’s a commercial district on AZ-160 with gas, food, and lodging. The majority of the town is actually on AZ-163, which approaches Monument Valley. The airport only has about 2000 operations a year, which means maybe 6 per day. You get some people flying in, but I think it’s mostly used as a refueling stop.

    Seriously though, it felt like a dinky little stop in the middle of nowhere. The closest I would describe I’ve seen in California is this little place on I-5 called Lost Hills.

  • sdir

    I’ve driven 1100 miles a few times to see family, so to each their own. I’ve made the round-trip twice with a friend and three times by myself. The easiest trips were always by myself. I could stop when I wanted, change the radio or CD player as I wanted and could actively keep myself alert for the long drive. I also realized that planning meant everything and made sure to leave immediately after waking so I’d be alert and fresh for my journey.

    Such a long journey with 3 kids in tow? No. Frickin’. Way.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    If you were in El Paso, it probably wasn’t Carhenge, which is in Alliance, Nebraska. You’re probably thinking of the Stanley Marsh Cadillac Ranch, which is in Amarillo, not El Paso. A weird attraction worth seeing just the same.

  • BMG4ME

    Texas has the best idea for making it easier – with its new 85mph speed limit!

  • Ronay

    Sorry, I didn’t see this article until today. I had to leave NYC, 3 days after the hurricane. Another story in itself! But I digress.

    I have driven long distances, both alone and accompanied, and the criteria for the long hauls was really more about what was “seeable,” (worth visiting) therefore, worth driving through during daylight hours.

    After a 2-month solo driving trip across the US and back, I was headed for my home in a suburb of NYC. I reached the last leg of the journey in Louisville, KY. My son lives there, so I had stopped for a quick visit. I still had approx. 800-plus miles to go. Since this was the last “scheduled” stop, I would be driving the final miles just to reach my destination, no particular stops or tourist activities anticipated.

    The next morning, I left at 5:30 am. I wasn’t in a hurry, and other than choosing a route, I had not spent a lot of time scouting the areas. I decided I would just drive until I felt tired, wherever that might be. I would be going through Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania on my way.

    As it turned out, these states had beautiful, in some cases stunning, scenery, and the drive turned out to be some of the worthiest time I’ve spent discovering my homeland. For example, just passing through West Virginia’s ‘hollers’ and woodlands was mesmerizing, and often other-worldly, with thick low fogs drifting through the valleys, and the world’s longest single arch steel span bridge, set over a jaw-dropping gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia. I did make a stop near there, to have lunch and enjoy a view of the bridge and gorge.

    I only made it 680 miles that day (ended up in Allentown, PA). It took me 11 1/2 hrs, (just 1 3/4 hrs short of my ultimate destination). I didn’t rack up any Guiness records, but even though I was basically just driving, I did manage to see and enjoy so much, all of it a pleasant surprise.

    I guess the point of my story is that even if you think you are not going to be traveling through any particularly compelling scenery, or all you want to do is see how far you can get in one crack, resist the urge. Do try to just stick to day-driving. It is obviously safer, you will feel a lot less irritable and tired, and may find some great unexpected experiences/sights along the way.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    Just make sure that on longer trips, the dog is properly secured to the roof of your car!