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July 07, 2002

This month and next are prime family vacation travel times for Americans, many of whom put themselves in the confines of one car for their longest time together of the year. Here, in the interests of promoting family safety and harmony, is Version I of a special Family Automobile Vacation Examination not available at any Department of Motor Vehicles examination station.

1. You are a father loading the car for a two-week automobile vacation and realize your teenage daughter is bringing sufficient clothing for a year abroad. You should: a) honk the horn repeatedly, b) flee the scene, c) loudly comment on this to both sons or d) secretly consult your spouse.

2. You are a mother in the kitchen packing the cooler with fruit and healthful drinks when your husband announces the trunk is full just with your daughter's suitcases. You should: a) quietly question her on the need for so many outfits just for the backseat, b) remember to pack the Aleve, c) suggest that both boys leave behind their CDs, Gameboys and underwear to make room for their sister's stuff or d) flee the scene.

3. You're a mother inspecting children's luggage and find a nest of rap and hip-hop CDs just as your husband says how much he's anticipating the bliss of no upstairs bedrooms blaring teen music. You should: a) remember to pack the Excedrin, b) force every breathing child to prove this instant that headphones are packed, c) remind your husband that his parents said the same thing about the Grateful Dead or d) flee after looking over your shoulder to ensure safe entry to roadway.

4. You're driving along an interstate when a Jeep passes you overflowing with orange-haired punkers with studded noses and denim jackets who begin waving and shouting at someone sitting behind you. You should: a) casually ask your daughter to close her window, b) inform your sons that if they make the slightest gesture they're grounded until 2008, c) launch a loud, distracting rendition of your favorite Supremes song or d) point out the large, empty farm field on the right.

5. At 74 miles an hour, at dusk on the first day out, all of you are four minutes into immense ice cream cones when you realize you forgot to make the motel reservation. You should: a) tell your wife that "for fun" you've decided everyone can wash up at the gas station and camp in the car that night, b) for the first time in your adult life, admit the need for an urgent rest stop and secretly start phoning 800-numbers, c) honk the horn and flash your lights until Holiday Inn calls or d) ask your wife whether she made the motel reservation as agreed and then offer to do it for her at the next exit.

6. On the sixth day out you suggest stopping before midafternoon because the world's largest ball of twine is displayed nearby. You should: a) Let your wife drive awhile, b) take Aleve and Excedrin, c) buy everybody souvenir cowboy hats or d) all of the above, except maybe c).

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