Every December, millions of Americans climb into their cars, both to drive hundreds of miles for extended trips to visit family, and just down the road to complete last-minute shopping. In 2018 alone, more than 100 million people were expected to take long-distance road trips during the holiday season, more than 15 times as many as were projected to travel by plane.
With the increased numbers of drivers on the road come statistical increases in danger. But it’s not just Christmas and New Year that where the risk of accidents is escalated. Holiday weekends such as Memorial Day are one of the prime examples of how dangerous the roads can get. According to a study by the National Safety Council, roughly 11.04% of all US traffic accident deaths from 2012 to 2017 occurring during that weekend.
While Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day lead all holidays in deadly traffic accidents, the months of November and December as a whole represent a heightened risk to all travelers. Increased numbers of potentially distracted drivers on the road and in shopping center parking lots, coupled with changing weather conditions, are a dangerous combination.
Road rage remains a major factor in traffic accidents throughout the holidays.
Road rage is one of the most common factors that influence traffic accidents throughout the year. Whether it’s due to a grievance with another driver’s actions, or personal emotional factors outside of whatever is happening on the road, angry drivers drive more aggressively, and more recklessly. Other drivers may respond in kind, or attempt to get away from the angry driver, which can result in a deadly crash.
The holidays can have the unfortunate effect of heightening all the stress factors that lead to road rage. If you’re traveling to stay with family, you’re dealing with the pressure of a tight schedule to get to your destination. You may be worried about wrapping up your holiday shopping. And when someone, or something, gets in the way of your holiday plans while on the road, road rage can take hold.
The CDC reports that driving while tired is a growing risk factor, and being tired can not only affect alertness, it can also affect your decision making. This can lead to road rage incidents when a drowsy or reckless driver commits an error in judgement that threatens other drivers, or they themselves are on the receiving end of unsafe driving. But while you can’t control how other drivers act or feel in a moment, you can act to prevent road rage from putting you in danger during your commute.
Plan for delays in your shopping and travel
If you know that you must be in a specific place at a certain time, look up your driving route in advance for any news about accidents or traffic snarls before you leave home, and set your own expectations accordingly. Try to leave earlier than you normally would, but still expect delays. You’re not the only one who is going to leave home early.
If you’re not traveling alone, plan for even more time on the road than usual for rest stops for yourself and your passengers, especially with children in tow. Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to feel rushed, even if you know you’re running late. It’s better to be late than to never arrive because of an accident!
Don’t take it personal when someone speeds or cuts you off
It’s easy to write it up or say it, but it is incredibly important to try and follow this advice. It’s frustrating when someone cuts you off or almost hits you during a lane change, but there’s a very real possibility that they didn’t even see you or mean to put you in danger. And even if they did, there’s nothing to gain from getting worked up, and everything to lose when responding aggressively.
Drive defensively and assume that other drivers don’t see you
Staying safe during the holidays means paying attention to what you and other drivers are doing. Don’t assume that other drivers can easily see what you’re doing, even if you’re signaling a turn or a lane change. Keep distance between you and other vehicles, and make your move when its safest. Defensive driving can not only keep you safe, it can also minimize the chances of setting off a driver with less control over themselves.
Don’t give in to the temptation to respond to angry and impatient drivers
If a driver does cut you off or honks their horn at you repeatedly for seemingly no reason, try to keep your reaction to yourself. Avoid eye contact, don’t make rude gestures, and don’t honk back. If you just got cut off, don’t tailgate the offending driver. Even if they started it, avoid escalating the issue, and you’ll be that much safer and in control.
Try to listen to something that is relaxing while on the road
The last thing you need when you’re driving with a lot of stress is to have something on the car radio that is amping you up. Music that helps you stay calm, an informative podcast, or just a good audiobook can help you keep things simmered down.
If someone else is clearly road raging, do what you within reason to safely avoid them
Someone who is in the middle of road rage isn’t thinking clearly about their own safety, let alone yours. Pull off to the side of the road if you can or need to, and never respond to aggressive driving with aggressive driving of your own. The consequences can be severe and affect more than just you and your fellow passengers.
Call the highway patrol if you feel threatened or spot a dangerous driver on the road. The sooner law enforcement knows about a road raging driver, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to get them off the road.
Distracted driving is already an epidemic across the US, and holiday road trips with family only increase the level of distraction.
We’ve discussed how distracted driving is a threat in shopping center parking lots, and that also on the roadways you’ll be driving on this holiday season. Cellphones, tablets, and even loud music can limit your attention to your surroundings, and if you’re driving family out of town to a larger family gathering for the holidays, everyone in the car is a potential distraction as well. Horseplay and loud conversation among children, and your efforts to control them can take your eyes off the road at the worst times.
If you’re going on an extended road trip with family, try to find ways to keep your passengers occupied so you can stay focused on driving. If you’ve got kids in the car with you, books, e-readers, tablets, and handheld videogames can help keep them occupied. Your sanity will thank you for it, and the reduced distractions will help you avoid a traffic accident.
One thing that could lead to distraction very quickly are long stretches behind the wheel. Don’t drive more than two hours at a time without taking a break, if you can help it. Driver fatigue can set in, leading to inattention and reduced reaction times to dangers on the road. If possible, designate a secondary driver in advance. Being able to trade off the responsibility of driving can greatly reduce the stress of the trip and prevent fatigue from setting in.
Poor winter weather can catch careful drivers by surprise.
With winter setting in across the country, road conditions are worsening as storms carrying rain and snow roll in across the US. In California, where much of the state stays dry throughout the year, the first rains can turn road surfaces slick as months of accumulated oil rises to the surface. Along with poor road conditions, such storms also worsen visibility, especially when nighttime storms give way to morning fog. Accidents can and do frequently happen, simply because drivers fail to take these changes in road conditions and visibility into account.
This affects passenger vehicles and large commercial vehicles alike, and the danger is heightened with tractor trailers, which already have longer stopping distances and are also slower to respond to sudden changes in the road. The results can be disastrous, and a multiple vehicle accident involving a big rig can cause very serious injuries.
Wet and icy roads are especially dangerous for drivers who are inattentive or driving too quickly. Accordingly to a study by the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies, rain is one of the most influential factors in fatal car accidents, increasing the chances of a deadly accident by nearly 34 percent. Even simple maneuvers like lane changes can become risky if drivers lose traction and overcorrect.
The holidays are a wonderful time of the year to connect and reconnect with family and friends. By planning ahead and showing extra care while behind the wheel, you can make even the longest road trips more manageable, and get to your destination safely! We at Penney and Associates wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and hope that you spend the rest of 2019 in good health and in happy company with your loved ones.