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Is It Illegal to Strap a Christmas Tree to Your Car?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Revised By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Last updated on

Even if you're not Christian or religious, something is appealing about decking the halls for the winter holidays. And perhaps nothing reigns over a Christmas household quite like a royal Tannenbaum. According to the American Christmas Tree Association, 75% of U.S. households put up a tree last year, one percent more than the year before. That's about 94 million homes. Their survey found that most people prefer to buy an artificial tree instead of a real Christmas tree, many of which will just fit in a concise little box inside your car or can be shipped to your house.

But what about the purists who like the tradition of going out to a Christmas tree farm or a tree lot to pick their live christmas tree to bring home? The holiday classic A Christmas Story avises to avoid the balsas and get the salesman to throw in some rope and tie it to your car for you. Indeed, the good old tie-down method is tried and true for many; but is it safe and legal?

Although it might be rare, mishaps with driving your Christmas tree can happen. And even if nothing goes wrong, the police can pull you over just for having a tree on top of your car in the first place; just look at the guy from Sudbury, Massachusetts in 2017. In that case, a single tree seemed to swallow a minivan whole.

So for those of us without a pickup truck, how do we safely and legally get our tree home? FindLaw has some tips to keep in mind this holiday season.

What Can Go Wrong?

Just like with moving furniture, there's a lot that can go wrong if you don't take precautions when transporting your tree. For starters, it can damage your car. Common issues caused by improperly secured trees include scratched paint jobs, torn car door seals, and distorted window frames.

But these are minor compared to the more serious consequences of a rogue Yule. Pine needles and even entire branches can fall off the tree during the trip due to wind resistance. While this may not sound that bad, it can be dangerous when driving at high speeds. It quickly creates road debris that can cause vehicle damage to other cars, or it can create a safety hazard that distracts other motorists from safe driving. You don't want to end up being the cause of vehicle damage to other drivers or even car accidents because some loose branches fell off the roof of your car!

And if you're really unlucky, the entire tree will fall off. A survey by AAA showed that in 2019, 16% of Americans had a Christmas tree fall from their vehicles. That's not so surprising when you learn that the same survey found that 44% of Americans were transporting their trees unsafely or improperly to begin with. But you can learn from their mistakes!

Tree Transport Tips

Here is a checklist for safe transport of trees that you'll want to follow to ensure no mishaps.

  • Net it when you get it. The seller will often offer an additional service to net your tree for you to make it more secure and avoid parts from falling out.
  • Make it manageable. If you can get a tree that can fit inside your car or your truck bed, that's always the best option.
  • Use a rack. A fifth of people from the 2019 survey used no roof rack when tying their tree on top of their car.
  • Face the right direction. If the tree is going on the roof, the tree trunk should be facing toward the front of the car. This will help reduce wind resistance and resulting damage.
  • Use an old blanket. Covering the roof of your vehicle with a blanket will prevent the tree from scratching the paint on your car.
  • Tie it down. Use strong rope or twine. Make sure you have enough of the cord to wrap around the tree and secure it to the roof rack or cargo hooks. You can also use bungee cords or nylon ratchet straps. Make sure you secure it to as many tie-down points as possible.
  • Trucks need tying, too. Tying down a tree seems obvious when it's on your roof, but also important if it's in the bed of your pickup truck. But truck drivers sometimes get too confident; in the 2019 survey, a quarter decided to drive off with the tree in the bed of the truck without securing it down.
  • Keep the windshield, side, and rear windows clear of any foliage. Most state traffic laws require full visibility of the car's surroundings.
  • Before leaving the lot, give the tree a good tug to make sure it's secure.
  • Drive slowly and avoid the highway, especially if you're not used to hauling heavy objects on your roof.

Following these tips should ensure you don't damage your tree or any cars or people on the ride home so that you can stay off Santa's naughty list and celebrate the holidays stress-free.

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