JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Christmas trees bring holiday cheer, but experts are warning about potential dangers when bringing a tree home.
As families go to spruce up their living rooms and decorate, a new AAA survey found an estimated 20 million Americans who purchased a real Christmas tree in the last three years did not properly secure it to their vehicle, risking serious vehicle damage and dangerous road debris. In addition to vehicle damage, Christmas trees that are not properly secured are a safety hazard to other drivers.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris -- which could include objects like improperly secured Christmas trees that fly off cars, landing on the road or on other cars -- was responsible for more than 200,000 crashes that resulted in 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths over the last four years. About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of improperly secured items falling from a vehicle.
About 30 million American families will buy a real Christmas tree this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. But that tradition comes with its risks, especially when bringing the tree home.
"The key is put it on there right the first time," said Jim Golden, who was buying a Christmas tree.
On Wednesday, News4Jax went to Trad's Garden Center on San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville to see how employees secure the trees they sell.
"He's 100 percent. Matt never loses a tree," said Bob Nicholson, with Trad's Garden Center.
First, make sure the tree is wrapped in net. Make sure the trunk of the tree, the bottom part, is facing forward. Not only will that protect the vehicle and the rest of the cars on the road, it will also make sure the tree keeps its shape.
Then, make sure to use strong enough rope or twine.
"Wrap around the trunk a couple of times to make sure that's not going anywhere," said Matt Fryman, with Trad's Garden Center. "This has got to be tight."
If you've got a roof rack on top of your vehicle, then you're in good shape. If not, that's OK because you can run the rope to the inside. Just make sure it's tied down properly.
If the tree hangs out past the car, you'll need to put a flag at the end of it. If you do it wrong, police will pull you over.
"Coming up on the interstate to come on the Buckman Bridge, or across the Fuller Warren Bridge -- if something comes off on the street, and somebody makes a drastic maneuver, it absolutely could be deadly," said Officer Christian Hancock, with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
The best thing you can do, if you have room, is stick the tree inside your car.
If in doubt, ask a professional for help.
"We always assist here because we don't want the risk of a tree falling off and causing an accident -- for them or the people behind them," said Jennifer Phillips, with Trad's Garden Center.
If the tree is over 10 feet long, that's probably too big for a standard-size vehicle. Unless you have a big pickup truck, you will want to find someone to deliver it.
At Trad's, they'll do it for free.