Playing It Safe This Summer

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Beach Chairs Planning on driving your family to a vacation spot this summer? Your chances for arriving safely increase with a healthy respect for the realities of highway travel.

For instance, at 55 miles per hour on a rural stretch of interstate highway, you have less than a 1 percent chance of involvement in a fatal crash. Increase your speed just 5 miles an hour, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statistics, and your chances shoot up to 7 percent.

And did you know that almost three out of four of the nearly 5,400 highway fatalities involving trucks, as reported by the FHWA for 1999, were caused by automobile drivers?

Or that even though the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 34 is a highway accident, your chances of surviving increase by almost half if you're wearing a seat belt?

Follow a few commonsense safety rules to prepare for summer travel.

Let's start with the driver
"Don't spend all night packing and then jump in the car at 6 a.m.," cautions Myra Wieman of the American Automobile Association's Mid-Atlantic Division. "It's just as important to prepare your body as your car." Pack the day before you travel and get a full night's sleep.

Sleep deprivation leads to "micro-sleeps" of four to five seconds. In that time, at 55 mph, you travel 100 feet, notes the FHWA. Some warning signs of sleepiness: You can't stop yawning or you don't remember driving the last few miles.

Only sleep will compensate. Pull over and take a 20-minute nap followed by a brief walk, says Ms. Wieman.

Don't forget to check the family car
Prepare the car by checking hoses, belts and especially tires.

Pack an emergency kit, including a flashlight, batteries, candle, jumper cables and reflective devices.

You also should have a first-aid kit. The American Red Cross suggests bandages, antiseptic towels, adhesive tape, sterile pads, disposable gloves, scissors, a thermometer, analgesics and pertinent medications.

Now let's hit the road
Don't take highway signs and road markings for granted. Be alert for left exits because this is the passing lane. Beware of vehicles exiting ahead of you.

Another potentially dangerous situation is when traffic both enters and exits at the same interchange. Through traffic and exiting traffic have right-of-way over entering traffic.

Road construction areas also require caution. A person holding a red flag has the same authority in a construction zone as an official stop sign.

And while you should look over your shoulder when changing lanes, don't linger in another vehicle's blind spot, especially trucks and buses, whose blind spots are much larger.

Finally, never back up on a ramp. If you find yourself exiting at the wrong spot, exit anyway and get back on the highway rather than risk lives by stopping.

You can avoid road rage
"You never want to incite anger in another motorist," says Ms. Wieman. "If someone gets on your bumper and flashes lights, don't say, 'I'm not going to move.' Get out of the way."

The FHWA agrees. "Don't compete on the road," it advises. "Don't take another's actions personally and don't react to another's uncivil behavior." The bottom line, says the U.S. Department of Transportation, "is fairness and cooperation among drivers sharing the road together."

Keeping the kids happy
• Pack healthy snacks and beverages.

• Bring small toys, books, games and music.

• Mark your trip's starting point and destination on a map and point out landmarks along the way so they can follow your progress.

• Ask the kids to see how many different states' license plates they can spot

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Pushing Past Your Plateau
We promise ourselves we'll change our lifestyles for better health. We start diets, launch exercise programs or try to quit smoking. And then we stall. We hit a plateau, putting us at risk of losing precious gains or quitting altogether.

A healthy lifestyle change is just that -- change. "A lot of people believe that change is easy, but we are fundamentally conservative creatures, and we don't change until we have to," says Michael J. Mahoney, Ph.D., an American Psychological Association spokesman and professor at the University of North Texas. "It doesn't take much to throw us off course because we are such creatures of routine."

So sticking with a new routine is tough. Dr. Mahoney suggests you focus on being consistent, especially in the first six weeks of a change. That way, you build new patterns of behavior. Once that happens, odds are you'll "begin to speak to yourself about the change in a more positive tone, instead of a negative one."

Are you stuck on a plateau? Here are six tips for pushing onward from Michael Mercer, Ph.D., coauthor of the book Spontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity and Happiness:

1. Define your aim clearly. "It's impossible to hit your target if you don't know exactly what you're aiming at," says Dr. Mercer, who gives about 50 speeches a year to executives and other audiences.

2. Don't let laziness creep in. "Sure, it's easier not to do something," he says. Instead, stay focused on your path. If you promised yourself you'd exercise at 6 a.m., don't hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off. Remind yourself firmly about your goals and get moving.

3. When you don't want to exercise or you want to quit your diet, take three seconds to picture how you want to look or feel at the end of your program. A lot of people begin such programs because they want to look attractive to others, while others are interested in improving their health.

4. Use a time-limit approach to your program. "Give yourself, say, 12 weeks to accomplish a goal within your program," he says. When you reach that goal, set a new one and give yourself another 12 weeks. "This enables you to track your progress and helps you to define your target. Use the scale, measuring tape or other device to measure your progress in the time period and to help you set new goals. The best cure for putting things off is a deadline."

5. Give yourself rewards for reaching your daily, weekly and monthly goals. "For instance, tell yourself you'll go to a movie you've been wanting to see if you get your exercise in that day," he says.

6. Think about committing to a self-punishment if you fail. "I worked with a group that had to write a check to charity and put it in my hands. If they didn't reach the goal, which was well within their limits, I was to mail the check by a particular date," Dr. Mercer says. "Every one of them reached the goal."

Mediterranean Couscous Mediterranean Couscous with Grilled Vegetables

• 1 (10 oz) box organic Mediterranean couscous
• 1 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
• 1 eggplant, sliced into rounds
• 1 yellow squash, thinly sliced lengthwise
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, skewered on a metal or wooden skewer
• 1 tsp ground turmeric
• 1 pinch crushed red pepper
• 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin oil, divided
• coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
• mint, for garnish
• 1 lemon

Preheat grill to medium-high.

Toss the veggies with the turmeric, crushed red pepper, a pinch of salt and pepper.
Brush grates with 2 Tbsp. oil. Grill veggies until you get good grilled marks on both sides, 5-7 minutes. Remove from grill and give a rough chop.

Bring 1 1/4 cup water, seasoning packet and 1 Tbs. oil to a boil. Add the couscous, cover, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.

Serve couscous topped with the grilled vegetables. Garnish with mint leaves and give a good squeeze of lemon over the whole thing.