Not to be the Grinch and steal your joy, but the holiday season’s roads are dangerous.
This year, the National Safety Council is predicting 366 traffic deaths and 39,200 injuries during the Christmas period Wednesday through Sunday. The organization is predicting 421 deaths and 45,000 injuries over the New Year’s holiday weekend from Dec. 31 to Jan. 4.
“We could be facing two especially deadly holiday periods, since each will include a long four-day weekend, said Deborah A.P. Hersman, the council’s president and CEO.
One way to improve the odds is to take all necessary precautions.
AAA says nearly 90 million of us will make a trip of 50 miles or more by car during the holidays. But we’re not as ready as we might think, says Julie Lee, the national director of AARP Driver Safety.
Her organization surveyed 1,200 licensed drivers ages 30 and older and found that while 98 percent of motorists said they adequately prepare, there are common oversights.
More than 90 percent of drivers say they always or sometimes make sure their mirrors are adjusted properly, check the dashboard for warning lights that may suggest problems and ensure their vehicle is up to date on recommended services. We are also pretty good at checking to see that our headlights work, oil level and fluids are at the proper levels, windshield wipers are in good condition and that tires are inflated according to specs.
Lee said we need to add the condition of our spare tire to our 360-degree vehicle check.
“There are people who never check their spare tire, ever,” Lee said. “People should check that there is one in the vehicle and that it is inflated … make sure it is in usable condition.”
Drivers don’t prepare for emergencies. The survey found that 72 percent agree that they should carry flares or reflectors with them in the event of a car breakdown, but only 37 percent actually do. And 85 percent agree that having a first aid kit in the car is important, but only 60 percent do.
Ensuring the vehicle is in shipshape is critical, but the most important element in any long-distance drive is the condition of the driver, Lee said.
“People concentrate on the car being prepared, but how prepared is the driver?” she said. “People need to think about how far they are driving, the weather and all of those things.”
That preparation includes having a roadside assistance plan or the equipment on hand to deal with emergencies such as flat tires, Lee said. And it means having alternatives in place such as when the weather turn sour. More than a quarter of drivers don’t account for that, the survey said.
Moreover, Lee said, sleep is often compromised during travel. “People who travel long distance will get up at 2 a.m. to beat the traffic. That’s not the best rest. Plan an extra day or half day to get to your destination.”
Taking breaks every two hours or 100 to 125 miles, even if for only 15 minutes, allows drivers to remain fresh, she said. “If you are doing freeway driving, you kind of get in a zone and are not paying as much attention,” she said.
Driver distraction is a key factor in accidents during the holidays, right up there with drunken driving. Being alert, staying off medications that induce drowsiness and keeping hands on the wheel can go a long way toward making sure you arrive alive.