For most people, the holidays are a mix of the joy of family, presents, and time off with the stress of travel. On the days just before Christmas, as people rush to buy presents and travel to visit with family members, the roadways can be more dangerous than on the days surrounding Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to a recent study. Researchers analyzing ten years of traffic accident data found heavy traffic surrounding all three major holidays can increase the chances for automobile accidents. In 2012, the Christmas holiday had 18% more auto accidents than the Thanksgiving period and 27% more than the days around New Year’s Day.

During the holidays, drivers must be cautious of their own driving, other drivers on the road, and their environment. To reduce your risk while on the roads this year, here are some potential risks to avoid:

How to Avoid Holiday Car Accidents

Alcohol – Holidays are a prime time for parties. Ideally, you will have a designated driver for your group of friends. However, if you are going to drive home from a party, pace yourself. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes last year, including 415 in the second half of December alone. Alcohol interferes with a person’s coordination, driving skills and judgment. Drinking can cause people to lose control and become aggressive, which can in turn affect driving skills. Have no more than one drink per hour, and make every other drink a nonalcoholic one. Pick a designated driver to get you home safely. A designated driver should be someone who has not had anything to drink, not just the person in your group who had the least to drink. Forty percent of traffic-related deaths during Christmas and New Year’s involve drunk drivers. The most traveled holiday period of the year is Thanksgiving weekend, and DUI arrests are at their highest between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend. Thanksgiving Eve is even referred to as “Black Wednesday,” as it may be the busiest night of the year for bars. Social binge drinking (consumption of a high volume of alcohol in a short period of time) is also common at this time of year.

Unfamiliar geography – Holidays are the cause of many car accidents because of the amount of cars on the road. With people traveling for family and friends, we are often driving on roads that we aren’t used to. Driving in unfamiliar territory can be difficult, but there are ways to prevent an accident from occurring. Understanding your environment will make it easier for you to anticipate the types of situations you might encounter. It’s also a good idea to tune into the local weather report before hitting the road. You can also use a GPS. If you do happen to get lost during your travels always remember to:

  • Avoid sudden changes of direction – if you miss a turn or an exit, stay calm. Continue to the next pass or exit in order to find a safe way to change direction. Trying to suddenly correct your car route may result in you performing an unsafe or illegal maneuver that could threaten the safety of your passengers or those traveling in vehicles around you.
  • Signal your intentions – Using your turn indicator well in advance will notify other drivers of your intentions and make it easier for you to navigate through unfamiliar traffic conditions.
  • Reduce your speed – Extra time and patience is needed on unfamiliar roadways. Driving slower will give you more time to identify and respond to unexpected obstacles including curves in the road, fallen debris, animals, and potholes.

Weather – Winter is the most dangerous time to be on the road, even without the extra traffic and stress of holiday travel. Here are some tips to ensure your safety while driving during the holiday season:

  • Avoid black ice — “Black” ice is clear water that has frozen on dark roadways, presenting a hidden trap for motorists who cannot see the slick pavement. Black ice is particularly prevalent on bridges, below overpasses and in areas surrounded by trees. Black ice can form even when it’s not raining or snowing. In freezing temperature, condensation from dew on roadways will freeze, forming a thin layer of ice that creates one of the slickest road conditions there is. Even in areas that aren’t accustomed to freezing temperatures, a sudden blast of cold air from the north can quickly freeze and leave roadways very slick. It is because black ice can form so quickly and is so camouflaged on the road that Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials call it the deadliest of all winter driving hazards.
  • Maintain visibility – Make sure you take the time to clear all of the snow and ice off of your car before you begin driving. Also, ensure that your windshield wipers, front and rear defrosters and brakes are all working properly. If it’s snowing, driving at least eight seconds behind cars, trucks, and snowplows will keep your windshield clearer by not allowing their tires to spit snow and dirt onto your windows. If you do happen to get caught in a blizzard, pull over to the side of the road. During this time, make sure your lights are on and other cars can see you, to prevent an accident while your car is still.
  • Get your car unstuck from snow or mud safely – If you accidently slide off the road or otherwise get trapped in snow or mud, be prepared so you can continue safely
    • Keep a shovel and bag of sand or salt in your trunk. Use the shovel to dig out snow from around your tires, then sprinkle sand in front of them to create traction.
    • Try to slowly ease out of the spot without spinning the wheels (accelerating hard will usually just dig deeper ruts).
    • If the wheels spin, stop immediately and let tires cool before starting again.
    • Try rocking the vehicle. To do this, shift to second gear or low gear and move forward. When the car cannot go any farther, take your foot off the accelerator and as the car rolls back, accelerate slightly. Repeating these steps rapidly can often free the car.
    • Make sure you always travel with an Auto Emergency Kit (this kit can include a flashlight, the shovel and sand from above, outerwear, etc.).
    • If all else fails, call a tow truck.

The holidays are a fun, exciting time of year, which is why it’s such a shame that car accidents happen so often during this season. If you have been injured in a holiday car accident, an experienced car accident attorney will be of great help to you. Do not hesitate to give us a call immediately at 206-285-1743.

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