Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we’ve starting noticing three things: Christmas lights are up, “Jingle Bells” is playing A LOT on the radio, and we’re seeing a lot of Christmas trees on top of cars.

As we gear up for the holiday season, there are a few major safety precautions we need to start thinking about— like driving for the road conditions. However, one thing many people forget about is how to properly transfer their Christmas tree. So before you head out to a U-Cut or wherever you’re planning on getting this year’s tree, plan ahead for how you’re going to get it home safely.

Last year, AAA reported that an estimated 20 million Americans who purchased real Christmas trees did not properly secure them to their vehicle. And you know what happens when things aren’t properly secured? Road debris. Every year, nearly 400 collisions occur on Washington roadways due to road debris. It’s even estimated that 40% of the litter on local highways is caused by one thing— unsecure loads. When we say debris, we don’t just mean a few pieces of trash on highway shoulders…we’ve seen fridges, mattresses, you name it.

When it comes to Christmas trees in particular, we see a lot of drivers just tie down the tree with twine, then just looped through windows or car doors. While it may seem easy, it’s extremely unsafe. Nobody wants to see tree flying off cars and onto the freeway.

According to Trooper Heather Axtman, if you’re going to put the tree on top of your car you should always make sure you have quality tie downs. “Strong rope or nylon straps work best…try to avoid anything thin like twine when putting a tree on top of your vehicle.” She also provided the following tips to help get you and your tree home safe this year:
• Make sure you’re driving the right vehicle. If you’re putting the tree on top of your car, use a roof rack. If it doesn’t have a roof rack, try putting it in the back of a pickup bed or inside of a large SUV with all the doors closed.
• By Washington law, anything that extends 4 inches from the side or 4 feet from the rear, must have a red or orange warning flag that is at least 18 inches square (RCW 46.37.140). So if you’re tree is sticking out, make sure you have a warning flag ready.
• Protect your vehicle if possible. Use a roof rack, put a tarp or old blanket down, anything to prevent paint scratches or worse.
• Protect the tree by wrapping it in netting or in twine to keep the branches from falling off.
• Drive slowly! The more powerful the airflow, the more likely it is to cause damage to your tree and increase the risk of it flying off into the roadway.