Driving South

Fall 2002 CSANews Issue 44  |  Posted date : Apr 09, 2007.Back to list

Warm fall days, cool October evenings, dew on the early morning grass; as the weather changes, many of us - whether full-time Snowbirds, Winter Texans or Southern Visitors - will be thinking about our winter in the sun... it's time to do what we CSA members do best...head south! And if you're like me, that means jumping in your car and driving to your winter destination.

In this month's article, I'd like to share some thoughts with those intending to drive south.

Before leaving, have your car serviced with an engine tune-up; tires should also be checked for correct inflation pressure. Both of these actions will help improve your gas mileage, thereby saving precious U.S. dollars en route.

One item many people forget is to check the spare tire and the necessary tools for changing it. There is only one thing more frustrating than being stranded beside the interstate with a flat tire...a flat spare. You should also check the tightness of the nuts securing your wheels. They should be tightened to specification but not so tight that you cannot remove them if you need to, at the side of the road.

Adjusting your driving seat correctly for a long distance drive will substantially reduce your fatigue during the trip. Here's how the pros do it. First, adjust your seat so the back is as upright as comfortably possible. Next, sit in the car and push your "butt" as firmly as you can into the "pocket" formed between the seat and its back. Now use the up-down, back-forward seat controls to achieve a position where you can depress the brake pedal firmly to the floor while your thighs are still supported by the seat's front edge.

Finally, with your back against the seat's back, stretch out your arms and place them on top of the steering wheel. The wheel should be just beneath your wrists. Repeat the adjustments (and steering wheel tilt, if applicable) until you've achieved this position - the one recommended by advanced driving schools for all long-distance drives. Don't forget that you should also be able to see your speedometer clearly - many highway patrol officers now accept Visa and Mastercard at the roadside!

Another trick advanced driving schools teach to avoid unnecessary tiredness is to hold the steering wheel in the "3" and "9" o'clock position (sorry, the old "2" and "10" position is no longer used). If you hold the steering wheel near the top like many do, you are forcing your body to use your shoulder (and neck) muscles to control your car ­ this can be very, very tiring. Furthermore, imagine what happens if your air-bag accidentally deploys while holding the wheel in this position - it has happened! The 3/9 position ensures that you are using the much stronger muscles of your arms for steering control, resulting in a much less tiring day.

Now let's pack the car and head off to the Canada/U.S. border.

It seems foremost on everybody's mind this year, is "the border." Is it going to be a problem? Are there major delays at the crossing points? Are things as tough as suggested by some media reports in this post-9/11 world?

The quick answer is "no." A U.S. immigration lawyer friend of mine says that the border has now returned to business as usual. I can also attest to this having driven across the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge at least four times recently, without any fuss or delays. If you are a law abiding Canadian citizen, can prove Canadian residency and can show you have the financial means to look after yourself while in the U.S., then you should have no problem whatsoever at the border.

Several years ago, I wrote a CSA Newsletter article about crossing the border (see footnote - The Border "Mind Game," CSA News, Fall, 2000) in which I explained in detail the reasons behind the questions asked by the border inspectors. I also described a number of things you can do to ease the process and make it less intimidating and more comfortable for you. All of the information in this article is still valid and I recommend a quick review of it to help you with your border crossing. You'll find it posted on the CSA website (www.snowbirds.org). See the footnote for further help in finding it.

What documents should I carry with me?
Without a doubt, Canadians should carry a Canadian passport as proof of citizenship. If you don't have one, I recommend you make every effort to obtain one before you leave. Failing this, a Driver's License supported with another piece of photo ID should get you across ... but it doesn't carry the weight of the passport.

Landed immigrants should carry the passport of their originating country plus their Canadian Landing Record (IMM1000) card, and another piece of photo ID such as their Driver's License. In June, the Government announced a program to replace the IMM1000 with a new Permanent Resident photo ID card, so it makes sense to apply for this on October 15th, when the Government starts its replacement program (phone 1-800-255-4541 for further information).

To prove I own property in Canada, I carry my property tax bills for the last two years. For added assurance, I also carry a photocopy of my paid-up mortgage documents. For those renting, a copy of their lease should be sufficient.

Why does the inspector want to know that you own (or rent) property in Canada? He or she wants to confirm that your "ties" to Canada are much stronger than your "ties" to the USA and that you will return to Canada. So any documents supporting this (income tax "Notice of Assessment T451", CPP statement, long term club, church or organization membership) are probably worth carrying as well. You should also carry your car's ownership and insurance card with you at all times.

Finally, to ensure I will not become a burden on the U.S. welfare system and can return to Canada under my own resources, I carry copies of my recent bank account statement and of course, my out-of-country medical insurance. They are not so much interested in my bank balance, but the fact that I have an established banking arrangement in Canada. This always seems to satisfy them.

However, there is one other document that makes all of the above unnecessary. In my earlier article, The Border "Mind Game," I recommended that CSA members apply for the NEXUS border crossing card. A number of members followed my advice and thanked me for it since they just drive through the "commuter lane" at a border crossing and are free to proceed without actually meeting an Inspector.

This program was cancelled after 9/11, but has just been reinstated as a joint program of the two Governments. I received my reinstatement notice the other day. Next week, my wife and I will visit the Immigration Office to be photographed and have our index fingers fingerprinted. We will then receive a sealed plastic card with a built-in electronic computer chip to be used in a special "fast" lane for future border crossings. For more information, check the web site at www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca, select the language menu choice and click on NEXUS. You can also phone toll free 1-866-639-8726 for information.

Well, finally we're across the border. What other things should we do to make our drive south more comfortable? Many people don't realize that as they head towards the sun, they are getting a dangerous overloading of cancer-causing ultraviolet "A" (UVA) radiation ... even on a cloudy day. To protect yourself, apply sunscreen protection to your face and backs of your hands.

The thick glass and plastic laminates in car windshields help filter UV light so that only about 15% of UVA (and very little UVB - the "sunburn" ray) reaches the car interior. But given the long hours of constant exposure (for example, the average drive from Ontario to Tampa is over 24 hours) it can mean you are receiving far to much UVA radiation during your drive.

Without protection, at the end of the day's drive you often feel a "wind blown" glow on your face (that's the UVB "burning" you) but you can't feel the UVA; it's much more insidious since its cumulative damage may not show up for years to come - in the form of skin cancer.

Finally, keep yourself hydrated throughout the day's drive. A plentiful intake of water (I use one of the "sports drink" products such as Gatorade - readily available at all gas station convenience stores on the way), will ensure that you don't become dehydrated resulting in tiredness. To ward off sleepiness behind the wheel (a deadly killer), plan to take a 15 minute break for every two hours driven at a rest area. Get out of the car and walk around - it gets the blood circulating in your lower limbs.

Of course, if you follow my hydration tip above, you will have to stop at a rest area every so often to take a break! Talk about built-in safety.