On average, 343 traffic fatalities occur in the U.S. during the three-day Christmas holiday. This average increases to roughly 373 over the three-day New Year holiday time. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable. An estimated 94% of traffic accidents are the result of human-based behavior. In the U.S. in 2016, over 37,000 people were fatally injured. In Colorado specifically, the death toll was 605 and included 125 operating motorcycles, 16 on bicycles and 84 pedestrians.
1. Seat Belts & Child Safety Restraints
Vehicles now contain multiple airbags and many new electronic safety features, yet many people overlook the fundamentals—wear a seat belt and SLOW DOWN! The Governors Highway Safety Association reports 78% of adults riding in the back seat wear their safety belts, compared to 87% of those in the front seats. Last year in Colorado there were approximately 186 fatalities in auto accidents where individuals failed to wear a safety belt. Statewide, the estimated usage rate is now around 84%. All children should be restrained in their age and size appropriate child safety seats or booster seats. Usage reduces the rate of severe injury or death by nearly 50%. Children under 12-years-old should be in the back seat and buckled up.
2. Impaired Driving
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alcohol-related traffic fatality occurs in the U.S. every 51 minutes. Drug impairment is also rising with usage of prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs. There are parties and social gatherings associated with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, company holiday parties and more. A large percentage of these events will involve alcohol consumption. Data has long indicated that more drivers operate under the influence during the holiday season. In Colorado, there were 5,936 crashes with an impaired driver and 6,219 in 2015. It is critical for people who are driving to minimize their consumption or make other arrangements such as:
- Stay overnight at the home of the party host
- Use a transportation provider like a taxi, Uber, or Lyft
- Designate a sober driver
- Use public transportation.
Whatever you do, don’t feel reluctant or embarrassed to ask for a ride—it is the smart thing to do.
3. Distracted Driving
During the holidays the roads are busy; therefore, it is critical to limit usage of mobile devices and other distractions while driving. Shailen Bhatt, of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), attributed the rise in accidents to the “epidemic” of distracted driving. CDOT gathers crash data resulting from distracted driving. They cited approximately 14,529 incidents in 2014 and 15,429 in 2015; however, these numbers are likely below the actual numbers due to the unwillingness of many drivers to admit they were careless at the time of the crash.
4. Drowsy Driving
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says nearly 20% of traffic fatalities involve a “drowsy” driver. They recommend avoiding large meals before long trips, taking a break every 100 miles, and getting enough sleep. They said that those having 5 or fewer hours of sleep are over four times more likely to be involved in a crash. The CDOT statistics for reported crashes involving drivers who were either fatigued or fell asleep were 2,271 for 2014 and 2,386 in 2015.
5. Vehicle Maintenance
AAA issued a reminder to have all maintenance concerns addressed before the holidays and the winter weather. Check the condition of these items:
- Tire tread
- Wiper blades
- Windshield washer liquid
- Braking system
In addition, they remind those with plans to travel to have the following items stored in your vehicle:
- Jumper cables
- Ice/snow scraper
- Small shovel
- Spare tire and tools
- Phone charger
6. Severe Weather
In Colorado, the months of November and December can have volatile weather conditions. Check the forecast for the regions you will be traveling through. If going through mountain areas you should be particularly aware of the conditions. Maintain additional feet of distance between yours and the car ahead to allow for more braking distance in slippery conditions.
Remember to have fun this Holiday Season, but remember, too: safety first.