Dreaming of driving cross-country this summer? Or perhaps your parents just broke the news that this year's vacation involves the family minivan, your whiny younger sibling, and one very carsick family pooch. No matter what the circumstances, a road trip's likely to feature into your summer plans.

When You're In the Driver's Seat

Whether you're driving to the beach for the day or putting serious miles on your dad's hand-me-down pickup, when you're in the driver's seat, you'll want to be prepared.

Stay focused on your driving. Try not to let passengers or your cell phone distract you. Although you'll want to keep your cell phone handy for emergencies, avoid talking or texting while you drive. Not only does it interfere with your concentration, it may get you a ticket in some states. Most important, pull over and take a break if you feel sleepy. Driving while drowsy is a major cause of car crashes. In fact, it can affect a driver's judgment as much as alcohol or drugs can.

Watch your speed. It's easy to cruise along with the music cranking and suddenly find you're over the limit. Not only does speeding play a huge role in teen driver crashes, it's also a great way to invite a ticket, which could put your license at risk. Plus, speeding penalties in some states can run several hundred dollars.

Know the limits of your license. If you have an intermediate license, you may be restricted to driving at certain times (some states don't let intermediate license holders drive during nighttime hours, for example). You may also be limited in the number of passengers you can take with you. And if you're driving through other states, be sure you know their laws before you hit the road.

Plan your trip ahead of time so you can concentrate on the road, not the map. If you're driving with friends, ask one of them to navigate. And be prepared to handle emergencies. Your basic roadside safety supplies should include a flashlight, a first aid kit, jumper cables, and a spare tire and flat repair kit that are in working order. And don't forget to check that you have your insurance information and vehicle registration card with you before hitting the road. (You can get a ticket for driving without that information.)

Family Road Trips

Family vacations can be challenging enough without long, tedious drives. If you'll be spending most of your time in the passenger seat, be sure to bring plenty of boredom-beating entertainment on the road.

If you have your license, ask your folks about sharing the driving. It gives them a break — and gives you a reason to escape the back seat when Fido's looking a little green. If you have your learner's permit and your parents are willing to let you drive, family road trips are a great way to rack up the hours needed for your license. (If you'll be crossing state lines, though, be sure to check whether other states allow you to drive with your permit.)

The prospect of cramming your family into a small space, adding wheels, and multiplying the experience by hours may seem downright horrifying. But you never know — the open road could lead to open minds. Perhaps you'll find you communicate better with parents and siblings away from the daily grind. At the very least, you can sit back, observe, and learn a lot about how your family interacts.

Safe driving!

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