Beware the flying Christmas tree

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy leaves are so unchanging;
 O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy leaves are so unchanging;
 Not only green when summer’s here,
 But also when ‘tis cold and drear.
 O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy leaves are so unchanging!

As the Yule season kicks into high gear and more and more houses are lit up with multicoloured twinkling lights and the feeling of Christmas takes over, thoughts probably turn to picking out a tree and figuring out how to get it home safely without damaging your car and without losing too many needles in the process. I’m lucky. My husband drives a pick-up truck and I drive a minivan.

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A tree is easily and securely placed in the back of either vehicle and safely brought home, ready for decorating.

People in cars with small trunks aren’t so fortunate. They have to tie the tree to the top of their vehicle. (A large box if it’s an artificial tree.) And that, says the B.C. Automobile Association, could end up making for a bad Christmas if the tree — or anything on top of your vehicle — isn’t properly secured and you have to slam on the brakes.

Like most sane drivers, Ken Cousin, associate vice president of BCAA Road Assist, tries to avoid driving behind vehicles with unsecured items in the trunk or the back of a pick-up (ladders!). And while we all like to laugh at the IKEA ad of a man sticking his arm out his car window to hold onto his purchases on the roof, these situations aren’t unheard of.

“A lot can happen in a short trip. An unsecured load can shift, making the car difficult to drive or steer, or the tree can fall or be catapulted from the vehicle endangering others,” Cousin says.

It’s a safe bet that nobody wants to impale someone with their Christmas tree or do costly damage to the roof of their vehicle, but don’t think bungee cords are the answer.

As popular as the stretchy cords are, they are useless for securing items on top of your vehicle. Cousin hasn’t heard of a Christmas tree getting airborne, but wanted to issue a safety message after seeing a German video.

In a crash test study conducted by the German automobile club Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club (ADAC), bungee cords used to secure a Christmas tree were shredded upon impact.

Ratchet-style tie-downs to keep the tree tight and secure are the way to go, says Cousin.

A study by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that vehicle-related road debris causes approximately 25,000 collisions and close to 100 deaths each year in North America.

Unsecured items that become debris include mattresses, home furnishings and building materials. According to ADAC, when objects travelling at 50 km per hour come to a sudden stop, they can take on 25 times their own weight. A 30 kg tree, for example, would hit its target with the force of an object that weighs 750 kg.

Unfortunately, ICBC doesn’t have stats on such accidents in B.C. but I’m sure they happen. (Trucks losing their loads for instance.)

“Unfortunately, we can’t assist. We rely on police-reported data for the cause of crashes and, as police are no longer required to attend all crashes, very few crashes get reported to us that would have anything to do with an unsecure load, ” ICBC media spokesperson Adam Grossman said in an email.

To help tree buyers get home safely from the Christmas tree lot, BCAA will demonstrate how to secure a tree at Aunt Leah’s tree lot located at the St. Stephen’s United Church at 54th Avenue and Granville Street at 10 a.m. Dec. 5. But if you can’t make it, here are some common-sense tips for transporting your tree if you put it on the roof of your vehicle:

  • With the base of the tree facing forward, sling ratchet straps around the base, middle and tip of the tree then fasten it to the roof rack. This should prevent lateral movement in the event of wind or a hard stop
  • If transporting a tree in the trunk or back seat, the base of the tree should lean up against the back seat or back rest. It should then be fastened to the truck floor with ratchet straps. The rear door or trunk should also be secured tightly down so that it doesn’t fly open.

Let’s hope the only thing flying in the air at Christmas are Santa and his reindeer.

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