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Dear Joanne,

My husband and I have three kids. I love travelling by car, but the family always ends up fighting, especially on vacations. If it's not just the kids, it's me and my husband. Is there any way we can avoid this kind of discomfort?

By rule of thumb, if two people are inclined to fight, it'll probably happen on Valentine's Day or during a road trip.

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Even though a survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia found that more drivers were distracted by nose-picking (30 per cent) than by fighting in the car (20 per cent), we all know it's a problem. Even the perfect couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, had their vows tested on the road in the 1954 movie The Long, Long Trailer .

On such a trip with a former boyfriend, one of us raised a topic which is known to provoke some people to acts of madness. We'd been crammed in a tiny rental car for eight hours, and consumed far too much caffeine and sugary road snacks. We were on the wrong side of the road, in a right-hand drive, navigating the narrow switchbacks of northern Scotland. Bono knows "where the streets have no name", but we'd found a place where the roads have no shoulders.

Under these conditions we discovered we were on opposite sides of the controversial issue. Exhausted, and with our guards down, someone blurted out something inflammatory. Someone snapped back. Someone retaliated. Things escalated, and the joy of the day's journey evaporated. That's when we realized we had passed the turnoff for the hotel an hour earlier. When we finally arrived, it was our great fortune that the only accommodation available was a suite, with two separate rooms. It turned out that relationship was a detour, and an eventual dead end.

As for children, I grew up with many siblings, and like most people, I remember family road trips. Three kids in the back seat of a Chevy Impala, fighting over who had to sit in the middle, straddling the drive shaft hump in the floor. Three kids became four, the Impala was traded for a Ford, but the fighting continued. We battled through trips to the Black Hills, Yellowstone National Park, and all the way to Batoche -- ironically, the last battlefield of Louis Riel's Northwest Rebellion. We always travelled during summer holidays, in sweltering prairie heat. Air conditioning was never an option in our vehicles. At least, not air conditioning that worked.

On family road trips, children inevitably scream things like "Mom, he's looking at me. Mom, he looked at me again!" Hmm. Blindfolds? Not gonna work. "Mom, she touched me. She touched me again!" Duct-taping the kids' hands to their laps so they can't pinch each other? Not legal.

Parents usually respond with "If I have to pull over, you're in trouble. Don't make me turn this car around!" Or the ultimate threat, "Don't make me come back there!" But at 110 km/h, are you really going to remove your safety belt and climb back over the seat, with an already-testy partner at the wheel? I don't think so. So what to do? And what to do with your significant other?

Sending the kids ahead by plane is an option. For couples, maybe separate cars is the answer. Or a great sound system, and dual climate controls. Keep a few pairs of earplugs in the glove box. And get your kids reading books. Only so many rounds of "punch buggy" can be played until things end in tears. And singing -- that'll work. Unless you're on round 999 of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. At which point it would be better to return to the scenery.

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How and where conflict in the car originates can be endlessly debated. Is it the proximity to your siblings or spouse? The lack of required eye contact? Maybe the GPS voice isn't soothing enough. Auto makers go to great lengths to pamper us with vehicles that suit our personality, character and budget. But perhaps we're too pampered. Driving a convertible with a defective top and wipers through a snowstorm would surely solve the problem. Quarrelling always takes a back seat to survival in extreme conditions.

If the advice above fails to create peace during your family road trips, it pains me to ask, but -- have you been to your local Dodge dealer lately, and checked out the Grand Caravan? Don't forget to order the swivel seats, and the optional rear DVD player. Then you can watch the best of Dr. Phil.

Need some Auto Therapy? E-mail Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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