You better watch out for improperly secured Christmas trees

Improperly secured trees could damage vehicles, become road hazards and land drivers on the naughty list.

“Looks great! Little full. ‘Lot of sap.” This month, many Americans will head out to “select the most important of Christmas symbols,” with the most popular day for doing so being Dec. 2. In doing so, they could end up on Santa’s naughty list, especially if they don’t follow AAA’s tips to safely transport their Christmas trees this holiday season.

“Although it may be an annual tradition, transporting a Christmas tree isn’t as easy as you think,” said Michael Blasky, spokesman for AAA Northern California. “Every year, drivers break the law and damage their cars by improperly securing their Christmas trees or selecting a tree that would make Clark Griswold jealous.”

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, according to an AAA survey. Vehicle damage that results from an improperly secured Christmas tree, such as scratched paint, torn door seals and distorted window frames, could cost up to $1,500 to repair. In addition to vehicle damage, Christmas trees that are not properly secured are a safety hazard for other drivers.

Drivers can stay on the nice list this year by taking the following steps to transport their Christmas trees:

•Select the right sleigh. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck, or an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish. Residents in Oakland and Berkeley can safely transport their Christmas tree by using AAA’s GIG Car Share, which comes equipped with a bike rack on every vehicle. Gig is a low-cost and hassle-free solution to Christmas tree shopping. for more information.

•Tether your tannenbaum. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. Use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch, to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.

•Keep the branches lovely. Protect the tree by wrapping it in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.

•Avoid saying “Oh fudge!” by driving carefully. Avoid highways and take city streets or back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.

Drivers can face hefty fines and penalties as well as jail time if an unsecured tree falls off their vehicle. Currently, every state has laws that make it illegal for items to fall from a vehicle while on the road. Most states’ penalties result in fines ranging from $10 and $5,000. Drivers can prevent injuries and avoid penalties by properly securing their loads to prevent items from falling off the vehicle.

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 past four years. And, about two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of improperly secured items falling from a vehicle.

AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers since it was founded more than 100 years ago. Visit