PARKERSBURG -Experts are reminding everyone to be alert while shopping, especially during the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, offering cold-weather driving tips to keep the holidays safe and urging consumers to do their homework before donating money to alleged charitable groups this season.
"People know to be concerned about safety on highways and neighborhood streets, but they forget to be on alert in parking lots," said J.J. Miller, AAA safety adviser. "Crashes happen frequently in parking lots and have the potential to be quite dangerous, particularly for pedestrians."
Here are some tips offered by AAA safety advisors:
* Remember your keys so you don't accidently lock them inside your vehicle.
* Park at the side entrance. At the mall, everyone wants to park near the stores, especially the main entrance. But most malls have secondary entrances on the sides, and those usually have less traffic and more convenient spaces.
* Outlying areas have more spaces, lighter traffic and lower risk of collision. In some cases, however, those spaces may not be as secure, so be aware of the risks.
* Use your headlights when scouring parking garages for spaces, even in the daytime. The light will let other cars see you coming around turns and can make fitting into that tight parking space a little easier.
* Avoid parking between a pair of tall SUVs or minivans where it might be hard for you to back out of the space. Also avoid parking near large snow banks, as they can also limit visibility. If you can't see well enough to back out safely, get help from one of your passengers.
* Watch out for children. They can be hard to see in busy parking lots and often make quick, unpredictable movements. When walking to and from the car, hold their hands to keep them safe in traffic.
* Don't cut across the lot, watch for cars cutting diagonally across lots and do not follow their example. Drive slowly and use your turn signal.
* Use the entire space, pull your car all the way into the space to avoid having the rear clipped by passing cars.
* Buckle up, even a low-speed collision can result in injuries. Make sure everyone is strapped in a seat belt or child seat while the car is in motion, even if it's just a short trip to another part of the parking lot.
"Drivers should always be aware of their surroundings," Miller said. "The holidays are a busy time for everyone, but remember when you're behind the wheel, your focus should be on driving - whether you're on the highway or in the parking lot."
The AAA East Central offers the following winter weather driving tips.
"Be aware of your surroundings and listen to weather and traffic conditions in places that you will be traveling to," Miller said. "Make sure you leave yourself enough time so that you will not feel hurried or take unnecessary chances. Avoid driving in icy conditions."
* Make sure windows are free of dirt and grime and keep windshield wiper reservoir full at all times.
* Use a winter cleaning solution with antifreeze components to keep the washer fluid from freezing.
* Clean headlights so you can see and be seen by others.
* Inflate your tires to the manufacturer's specifications and be sure they have plenty of tread for proper traction.
* Wear your seatbelt low across your hips and on your shoulders. Sit at least 10 inches away from your steering wheel so that you have plenty of room for emergency steering maneuvers and also to give the airbag room to inflate.
* Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle at all times. The kit should contain an ice scraper, cloth or roll of paper towels, battery starter cables, first-aid kit, non-perishable snacks and drinking water, blanket, gloves, warning devices such as flares or triangles, window washing solvent, flashlight, traction mats, snow brush, snow shovel, tire chains and a small bag of abrasive material such as sand, salt or kitty litter for traction.
"Drivers should also increase the following distance to give themselves plenty of room to maneuver their vehicle if an emergency occurs," Miller said. "If you can't stop in time to avoid hitting something, steer around it. At 45 miles per hour it takes less than half the time to steer than to bring your car to a complete stop."
* When driving on ice, do not make any quick changes in speed or direction. If your vehicle starts to skid, take your foot off the brake or gas pedal if the skid is a result of hard acceleration or braking. Shift to neutral, and look and steer in the direction you want to go. Just before your wheels stop skidding, counter steer until you are going the desired direction.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 82 local offices in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Kentucky servicing 2.7 million members.
Remember to be careful in making charitable donations this season. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant urged residents to ask questions of solicitors, research a charity before donating, and contact the Investigations Unit of the secretary of state's office if they have questions about a charity.
The Secretary of State maintains an online database of organizations licensed to solicit donations from West Virginians. Citizens can see how a charity spends its donations and grants, broken down into three categories: administrative costs, funds paid to professional fundraisers, and how much was spent on the charity's programs. The database can be accessed by visiting the Secretary of State's website at www.wvsos.com and clicking the "Wise Charitable Giving" link at the top of the page.
"The honest charities will be able to tell you how they're going to spend your donation, they'll confirm that they're listed on our database, and they won't pressure you into giving your credit card number," Tennant said.