The winter holiday season has arrived, and though it tends to come with much excitement, it’s also one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road.
During this stretch of time each year, the roads grow more congested and the number of drunk drivers increases dramatically around holiday celebrations. In addition, inclement weather can seemingly arise out of nowhere, worsening road conditions.
According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes and road fatalities peak around the American holidays due to “increased travel time, more alcohol use, and excessive driving speed.”
While the holidays can certainly be joyous for many, they can also bring a surplus of stress and impatience — emotions that help fuel the amount of danger on American roads and highways.
The table below shows just how dangerous the roads can be around major American holidays:
|Holiday||Number of Recorded Fatal Car Crashes|
|Fourth of July||594|
|Christmas and New Year’s||799|
Even the most experienced and careful drivers should take extra precautions during the holiday season. Below are some of the best steps that drivers can take to practice safer driving around this time of year.
1. Designate a Driver
It’s likely not a surprise, but the holiday season often sees roads that are saturated with drunk and/or impaired drivers. Before heading out to any holiday gatherings, be sure to identify who in your party is going to be the one to drive home.
Whoever drives, it’s imperative that they remain sober. As shown by data compiled by NHTSA, impaired driving is responsible for roughly 40% of all fatal car accidents — a trend that has remained steady for decades.
2. Get Your Car Serviced
Many people travel long distances over the holidays, and the last thing they want is for their car to break down along the way. Breakdowns can ultimately lead to traffic jams and more heavily congested roads — conditions that are ripe for auto accidents.
Stay one step ahead by making sure your car has been serviced — oil checked and/or changed, windshield wipers replaced, tires rotated, etc. — and is ready to take on additional mileage during the holiday season. Proactive and regular service on your vehicle is a simple and effective preventative measure, and can end up saving your life and others in the long run.
3. Leave Early
Some drivers tend to rush between destinations during the holidays, and with roads at their most crowded, it’s never a bad idea to leave a little bit early — one, to avoid potential traffic, and, two, to minimize any need to rush. The less “rushed” drivers feel behind the wheel, the better — and safer — for all.
4. Keep Tabs on the Weather
Part of being prepared for the holidays is having a sense of what to expect weather-wise. The more prepared you are to take on harsher weather, the safer you are likely to be when those conditions arise.
The week heading into Thanksgiving and other holiday events, be sure to pay especially sharp attention to any major weather-related developments. Be prepared for snow, rain, and other freak weather conditions, and adjust your travel plans accordingly.
5. Stay Alert
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 25 drivers report having fallen asleep while driving. The NHTSA estimates that in 2017, so-called “drowsy driving” was responsible for at least 91,000 crashes — resulting in more than 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths.
If you are driving this holiday season, it may be a good idea to drink a cup of coffee or caffeinated black tea before hitting the road home, just to make sure you are extra alert, sharp, and ready to drive.
6. Drive Defensively
It’s a classic rule of driving, and also a golden one: Drive defensively — for anything can happen: a deer can suddenly prance across the road; black ice may create an unseeable hazard; impaired and/or reckless drivers may behave unexpectedly.
Driving defensively is a mindset that includes:
- Being in full control of your speed
- Being able to react immediately to other drivers
- Staying fully alert and avoiding any distractions
- Understanding that not all drivers will behave as you do or would
7. Dial Down the Distractions
Recently, the NHTSA stated that distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019 alone (the last year for which data is available). Distracted driving is defined as any activity that takes the driver’s attention away from driving, including things like:
- Talking on your phone
- Texting on your phone
- Eating and drinking
- Turning to talk to or interact with people in your vehicle
- Fiddling with the car stereo, entertainment, or navigation system
Listening to music, a podcast, or the radio may be one great way to stay alert on longer drives, but be sure the volume level is low enough to stay focused on the road ahead of you.
Above all, be sure to keep phones — and the temptation of texting and/or responding to messages — at a distance.
The Importance of Driving Safe This Holiday Season
The winter holidays are truly a special time for so many Americans — and the good cheer and spirit they bring seems even more important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The last thing families and loved ones want is a car crash, which can suddenly change the tenor of the entire holiday season.
On average, nearly 40,000 Americans die on the road each year, making car crashes one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
Be sure you and your loved ones don’t become another statistic. Practice safe driving and take the few extra steps necessary to ensure yours and others’ safety while on the road this holiday season.