An estimated 40,000 people lost their lives and about 4.5 million people were seriously injured in car crashes in 2018 according to the National Safety Council. While travel safety is important all year long, it takes on even greater importance from late November to mid-January, when travel spikes. On Thanksgiving alone, an estimated 55 million travelers made trips of 50 miles or more, with the vast majority of holiday travelers driving to their destinations. This situation will repeat itself for the next several weeks.
Whether you are traveling far or staying local, it only takes a few careless moments for tragedy to strike. Paying attention to these safety tips will ensure a happy holiday season now and for years to come.
First of all, adopt a zero-tolerance policy of driving or allowing others to drive intoxicated. Alcohol impairment is involved in about a third of all holiday vehicle fatalities. Designate a sober driver to ensure guests make it home safely after a holiday party; alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs can all cause impairment.
Also, make sure the driver puts their cell phone away. While many distractions can occur while driving (people turning or stopping suddenly, animals running into the roadways, etc.) cell phones are one of the main culprits of car crashes related to distracted driving. To avoid being tempted to glance at your phone, give it to another passenger to hold or put it out of reach or in the back seat. If you must make a call, pull over to a safe spot and park before using your phone.
Holiday travel also might involve driving in less than ideal weather conditions. Always check the weather conditions for your travel route. Prepare your car for winter and keep an emergency preparedness kit with you. This should include a shovel, jumper cables, warning devices such as flares or reflective safety triangles, a flashlight with extra batteries, a portable cell-phone charger, and a set of sturdy, warm work gloves. If you get in an accident avoid getting out of your vehicle until help arrives. Many accidents occur when people are struck by passing vehicles by getting out of their cars on any type of roadway, especially at night or in low visibility conditions.
Make sure you also have some basic safety and comfort items in case you get stuck for a period of time including a blanket, water, energy bars, a first aid kit, an extra sweatshirt or warm layer of clothing, a warm pair of socks, and a rain poncho. All of these items can be kept in a plastic storage bin in your trunk.
When planning your trip, be sure to get a good night’s sleep before departing and avoid drowsy driving. Leave early, plan ahead for heavy traffic, and stop occasionally to help avoid driving fatigue. Before departing, make sure every person in the vehicle is properly buckled up no matter how long or short the distance traveled. Never allow children to travel in a car unrestrained or on the lap of an adult or older child.
Nothing can ruin a holiday celebration quicker than a trip to the hospital or nearest trauma center. By following these tips, you can enjoy a safe holiday season.
John M. Porter, MD, is the Head of the Division of Trauma Surgery and Director of Center for Trauma Services at Cooper University Health Care. Interested in learning more about trauma and injury prevention. More information about our Community Outreach and Injury Prevention Programs is available online.