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Navigating Holiday Roads: Risks and Essential Safety Guidelines

December 05, 2023

AdobeStock_248257640The holiday season brings an increase in traffic and distractions on the road. While Memorial Day, Labor Day and Fourth of July weekend have, respectively, the most number of fatal crashes every year, winter holiday traffic (and winter weather driving in general) is fraught with its own dangers.

Although the crash rate typically decreases slightly on the actual holiday, the surrounding days witness a rise in accidents due to increased traffic. Whether individuals are heading to visit family, going to the mall, or attending a holiday party, the roads become busier starting around Halloween. This heightened traffic requires vigilance to navigate potential driving hazards.

Let's explore some of the primary holiday driving dangers and tips to mitigate these risks.

1. Drunk Drivers

Every day, drunk driving poses a significant challenge on our nation's roads, but its prevalence intensifies during the holiday season. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in the New Year's and Christmas periods of 2020 alone, there were 209 fatalities linked to drunk driving. It is crucial to emphasize that these deaths were entirely preventable. 

Throughout the holiday season, as company and private parties occur on a daily basis, the risk of crashes increases. If you have a holiday gathering on your calendar, make smart choices and plan out how you’re going to get home safely once the celebration ends.

2. Distracted Drivers

Distracted driving is always a concern when you’re behind the wheel, but the distractions can increase during the holiday season. In addition to drivers using mobile phones to call or text friends and family, they may be doing online searches for a gift item or looking up directions to a store.

While distracted driving has become a bigger problem as a whole in recent years, during the holiday season it’s even more likely to present challenges for everyone on the road.

3. Drowsy Drivers

In addition to the possibility of more people drinking and driving, drowsy drivers are also in abundant supply during the holiday season. With an increase in activities, many drivers are overextended. Then there are the hangovers as a result of those holiday parties, which add to the feeling of fatigue and cause slower reaction times.

When drivers haven’t had enough sleep, they’re at a greater risk for a crash. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that some 624 people died as a result of drowsy driving since 2021 alone, and industry experts say that collisions resulting from fatigued and sleepy drivers are on the rise.

4. New/Unfamiliar Drivers

At some point, we all had to acquire the skill of driving, but navigating traffic lanes alongside new drivers can be quite intimidating. These individuals may not yet be accustomed to driving in dense traffic, leading to sudden stops or unexpected maneuvers. Alternatively, you might encounter out-of-towners during your commute, unfamiliar with the area, making abrupt turns, lane changes, and exits.

As the holiday season brings more people onto unfamiliar roads, the risk of accidents rises, underscoring the importance of heightened vigilance from other drivers.

5. Weather Hazards

In addition to the need to be aware of what other drivers are doing around you, the timing of the holidays brings its own set of challenges. The potential for ice and snow makes winter weather driving more treacherous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 395 fatal crashes and an estimated 22,325 injury crashes that occurred when there were snow/sleet conditions at the time of the crash in 2021.

 For drivers who must spend a large part of their time behind the wheel, such as fleet drivers, learning how to prepare for and manage such situations can truly mean the difference between life and death.

Putting the Brakes on Holiday Driving Dangers

Understanding how to effectively navigate holiday-driving risks begins with recognizing them and devising a strategy for their management. Applying The Smith5Keys® gives you an advantage behind the wheel that can be used year-round, but it is particularly important when dealing with busy holiday driving conditions.

These 5Key principles serve as a reliable approach to enhance your chances of reaching your destination safely each day. Let’s look at Keys 1, 2, and 4 to keep drivers safer this holiday season.

  • Key 1. Aim High In Steering®: Look ahead at least 15 seconds in traffic to see where you’ll be and anticipate what you might need to do to manage that situation.
  • Key 2. Get The Big Picture®: Although holiday traffic is well known for its bumper-to-bumper environment, taking the time to adjust your following distance and looking for the safest position in traffic can provide you with the space you need.
  • Key 4. Leave Yourself An Out®: By creating a cushion of space around your vehicle, you can give yourself an “out” when an unsafe situation arises.

Additionally, acknowledge moments of fatigue or distraction, adapting your actions accordingly. Whether recognizing your tiredness and deciding it's unsafe to drive or navigating unfamiliar territory, prioritize your safety by taking the time to pull over and take appropriate measures.

This might involve a rest or a brief walk if fatigued, or halting your journey to gather the information needed to reach your destination safely.

While the holiday season introduces various driving challenges, maintaining awareness and utilizing the right tools can prevent them from escalating into life-threatening situations.