YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Clark Griswold calls the Christmas Tree one of the “most enduring traditions of the Christmas season,” but that can go down the tubes if your tree falls off your car or worse and causes an accident.

According to previous AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research, more than 200,000 crashes involved debris on U.S. roads over a four-year period, resulting in 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.

Drivers can also face fines for not securing trees properly. Most penalties range from $10 to $5,000, some states even impose jail time.

Whether you tie the tree to your vehicle yourself or get someone else to do it, it pays to make sure it’s secure.

AAA suggests several tips to avoid scratching your paint and keeping the evergreen secure for the trip home.

  • Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a holiday tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if there is no 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 quality tie downs. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots.
  • Protect the tree. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine.
  • Protect your vehicle. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle’s finish.
  • Point the trunk towards the front. 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.
  • Clear the tree. Make sure to brush off any snow or ice off of the tree so that it doesn’t cause a visual obstruction for anyone. 
  • Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. At the bottom, 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. The center and top tie downs should be installed in a similar manner.
  • Give it the tug test. Before leaving the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.
  • Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage a Holiday tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.