Car crashes happen all year ‘round, but holidays see a sharp spike in accidents and even deaths. It’s unfortunate that wonderful times like Christmas and New Years are in the Top 10 Accident / Fatality Days. Holidays should be filled with happy, fond memories. At Fisher Stark, we see it too often; calls about accidents rising sharply after holidays. Car crashes occur for different reasons at different seasons, including bad weather, aggressive traffic, distracted driving, drowsy driving, drunk driving, parties, alcohol, and, more people going over the rivers and through the woods.
While there are general reasons why accidents increase during holidays, the time of day itself can also be key. Take Christmas for example. Many employers give their workers extra time off regardless of religious affiliation. According to the American Safety Council, the greatest number of accidents happen on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and the evening of Christmas Day. Likewise, New Years is notorious for its alcohol-fueled accident rates in conjunction with time of day issues. People countdown to the magic hour of midnight, usually with a drink in their hands. So, it stands to reason that there’s more drinking and driving in the early hours of New Year’s Day than on any other specific time of day throughout the year. The day of the week also affects accident rates. Statistically, more traffic fatalities occur when holidays like Christmas and New Years fall on weekends as opposed to weekdays. So, bearing in mind the specifics circumstances than can create holiday accidents, knowing where problems often lie and how to prepare well may hopefully help us avoid accidents in the first place.
Plan for holiday stress
Because holidays are family time and often celebrated together with feasts and presents, budgets are often strained. With airfare being so expensive, it’s natural to pile a whole family into a car for a trip. More cars on the road leads to more traffic jams, more aggressive driving, more road rage and more stress in general. Because of all these factors leading to greater accident rates, it’s important to avoid distracted driving, drunk driving or drowsy driving in order to keep your full focus on the road. It’s equally important to report any other car suspected of dangerous driving too. The holidays have enough stressors built into them already without completely avoidable problems! Always remember to drive safely, leaving lots of room between yourself and other vehicles on the road and, if possible, driving on less busy days to avoid the most dangerous times and conditions to avoid those holiday headaches!
Safe driving starts with the basics. Before packing a vehicle full of family, food and other holiday fun, start with maintenance. This means topping off or replacing all fluids as needed; radiator, power steering, oil and windshield wiper solvent. Tires should have good tread and be inflated to proper levels which is essential for a smooth, safe ride as well as maximizing gas mileage. Make sure all lights work including brakes, headlights, turn signals and even interior dome lights. Windshield wipers should be replaced as needed (especially if there’s inclement weather to come). In addition to standard vehicle maintenance, it’s also important to be prepared for emergencies. This is especially true in colder weather. Make sure you have everything needed to change a flat tire (and that the spare is inflated). A pair of jumper cables are always good to have on hand in case of battery problems. It’s even good to have blankets on hand for everyone in case you do get stuck.
Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. Other reports feel these numbers are seriously underestimated (there’s no test for drowsiness as a cause of an accident) and believe up to 6,000 crashes each year resulting in fatalities are caused by drowsy drivers. Fortunately, there are some practical steps holiday drivers can take to minimize sleepy situations during the holidays. Avoid last minute shopping and staying up all night to wrap presents before a long drive. Don’t cram in extra hours at work to enjoy several days off and then try to drive exhausted. At Fisher Stark, we’ve seen the damage that a distracted driver can cause. Get lots of rest before hitting the road, especially if driving overnight hours. If necessary, share drive time with other people to ensure all drivers are well rested, alert and attentive.
When packing a car full of family, presents and food, planning ahead avoids time wasted turning around to retrieve some necessary forgotten item! No one wants to go backward on a road trip, so take a tip from the master travel planner, Saint Nick; make a list, check it twice. When planning for a holiday trip, it’s important to remember both things at home and things going with you on the road, especially if travelling a long distance or overnight. In addition to making sure the stove is off, check that windows and doors are shut and locked (including on any vehicles staying at home), alarms set and other household concerns are addressed before you leave. Plus, it’s also critical to consider any critters! We love our pets and know they deserve to be safe and secure!
Holiday planning includes beloved pets.
“Arf” you forgetting something?
If you will be away for more than a day and pets are staying home, make sure all animals are secure and have enough food and water. Hire a sitter well ahead of time if necessary. If pets are travelling in the car with you, make sure they have food and water and bowls from which to eat as well as necessary bedding, crates, medicine, leashes, collars, toys and other critical equipment. And make sure they have proper space; it’s never safe to have an animal roaming freely in a vehicle.
Get maps for long road trips in case GPS signals break down.
Map it out
If travelling a long distance, it’s always good to plan your route (and maybe even a backup or two in case unexpected delays spring up). And while GPS is a wonderful thing, it’s always good to have an actual map on hand to cover your travels in case of internet connection issues. Planning a route comes in handy when considering gas fill ups, rest stops, mealtimes and bathroom breaks. It’s a good way to have unrushed time for travel as well as stretching your legs while still reach your destination safely and on time. AAA has mapping services, for careful planning.
Holiday driving can change quickly, so make sure you stay on top of the weather!
Weather or not
During the winter months, bad weather can sometimes be accounted for, and sometimes not, but it should always be something for which you and your family are prepared. Follow weather reports to stay ahead of any hazardous conditions, even while on the road. If you do run into bad weather and are not comfortable driving, pull over! It’s better to arrive late than never and there’s no accounting for the negligent driving of other people.
Holiday time moves fast or slow, depending on how well you plan!
Leave early (or at least on time!)
One of the best ways to reduce stress while travelling is to give yourself enough time to reach your destination. As one should always expect the unexpected when on the road, it’s always a good idea to leave earlier than you think you’ll need. If traffic snarls or there’s an accident, an extra hour or two might help make up for it. If it’s smooth sailing all the way through, you can use that extra time to relax during a meal (or two), give the dog a walk, see the sights or relax and let the kids play a bit at rest stops.
Car trips for kids are made more fun with lots of entertainment!
Content kids = undistracted driving
One way to avoid distractions is ensuring kids have necessary emotional support blankies and / or stuffed animals. This is just as important to the Captain as it is to the crew too, so add comfort items to your holiday travel list. Ensuring kids are comfortable usually means things to do or watch. Entertainment is kid-specific but could include road games like license plate bingo, books (if motion sickness isn’t an issue), portable DVD players (headphones are also awesome), tablets and even simple crafts like coloring books can keep kids content for the long haul. For younger infants and toddlers, keep a change of clothes handy in case of accidents. Monitor snacks and drinks to avoid unwanted pit stops (but plan for them anyway). As necessary, make sure you have diapers, wipes, paper towels, ointments, sealing plastic bags for dirty diapers, medicine, pacifiers, bottles and other critical equipment.
Pack with pride
To avoid cramped conditions, packing perfectly follows the same rules as your groceries. Make sure the largest, heaviest things are on the bottom. Consider anything that might be necessary in an emergency pit stop (i.e. kids clothes, diapers, etc.) and keep it near the top. If you are travelling with food, ensure everything is well sealed to avoid spills and leaks. While good packing can keep most items stable, remember that you will be moving, so plan on food moving too. Keeping hot food well secured and away from contact with people. This avoids scalding injuries in the event of short stops and possible accidents. If you have food that should remain cold, consider refreezable cold packs that are safe to travel with food in order to avoid soggy messes. Finally, if you are short of space to fit everything in, consider a travel trailer or hard shell container to ride on a luggage rack. You should never have so much packed into your vehicle that it blocks your field of vision or is constantly shifting weight.
The Fisher Stark P.A. Team: Perry Fisher, Megan Silver, Brad Stark
Experienced Asheville personal injury lawyers
While we wish you a safe and happy holiday season, we know that car crashes and vehicle injuries happen due to other people’s negligence and lack of planning. If you or a loved one has been injured on the road, you need a strong advocate on your side with the expertise to assure that insurance companies don’t take advantage of you. If you live in Asheville, North Carolina, or surrounding areas, and have been injured from distracted holiday driving resulting in a car crash or truck crash, please call the personal injury lawyers at Fisher Stark, P.A., for a free consultation at (828) 505-4300.