If you are traveling anywhere this holiday season, expect to have some company on the road — about 107 million fellow travelers according to AAA. Just over 97 million are expected to drive and another 6.4 million will be flying.
The holidays are a busy time and drivers are already distracted by their phones, auto technology and passengers. Throw in thousands of shoppers or pedestrians who are texting or talking and you can see the dangers rise exponentially.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 3,477 people were killed and another 391,000 injured by distracted drivers in 2015. According to the Property Casualty Insurers of America (PCI), distracted driving, particularly the pervasive use of mobile phones behind the wheel, is one of the primary reasons for the increase in vehicle crashes across the country. An online Harris Poll conducted for PCI found that distracted driving was the leading cause of the increase in auto accidents even though most adults know not to text or talk while driving.
“Even though we’re aware of the dangers, our smartphones are still monopolizing too much of our time on the road,” explains Bob Passmore, assistant vice president of personal lines policy at PCI in a press release. “It’s all around us, everywhere you look people are texting, talking, surfing the web, and scrolling through social media on their smartphones while driving or walking.”
Passmore urges drivers to put their phones away before driving. “If your device has a ‘do not disturb while driving’ function, use it. Eliminating distractions, focusing on the road, and staying alert to driving conditions and other cars and pedestrians truly can prevent accidents.”
PCI offers several tips to help keep everyone safe while traveling over the holiday season.
Eating or drinking while driving takes your eyes off the road and increases the risk of an accident. (Photo: Shutterstock)
1. Avoid distracted driving. Start your trip by placing your phone in “do not disturb while driving” mode. Be aware that the more passengers in a car, the greater the number of distractions. Secure any pets and try to limit eating or adjusting the radio controls while behind the wheel.
Ridesharing services or a designated driver can help ensure a safe trip home after a night of revelry. (Photo: Shutterstock)
2. Have a designated driver. Choose someone who will remain sober or make plans to use a taxi or ridesharing service if you will be drinking at any of your parties. In states where marijuana use is legal, be aware of the impact it can have on your judgement, reflexes and reaction time, as well as your motor skills.
More than half of the adults who died in auto crashes in 2015 were unrestrained. (Photo: Shutterstock)
3. Buckle up. It sounds simple, but don’t forget to buckle your seatbelt — whether you’re in the front or the back seat. It is the law in 34 states for those in the front seat, while 18 states require passengers in the back seat to also be restrained. Children should also be in appropriate car seats or booster seats.
Holiday traffic can add significant travel delays around major cities and during rush hour. (Photo: Shutterstock)
4. Don’t rush. Make sure to allow plenty of time to get to your destination and consider how traffic could affect your travel time. The number of travelers who may be unfamiliar with an area increases the odds for accidents. Plan your route and some alternatives before you leave home just in case you hit traffic congestion.
The police will be looking for speeders and impaired drivers during the holidays. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Don't speed. Drive the speed limit and according to road conditions. If roads are wet, snow-covered or possibly icy, slow down, leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you, and brake and accelerate gently. If driving in crowded areas like parking lots, drive slowly and anticipate someone pulling out in front of you or possibly stopping suddenly.
Move to as safe a place as possible if you are in an accident or break down. (Photo: Shutterstock)
6. Need assistance? Take the time to check the air in your tires, your oil and other fluids, as well as your wipers to minimize the chances of a breakdown.
If you are involved in an accident or have car trouble, make sure to have a number for roadside assistance either through your insurer or through some other program. Beware of tow companies who might try to take advantage of the situation. Ask about any costs up front — towing, storage, etc. Make sure you know how to tow your vehicle safely (some should only be towed from the rear and others only on a flatbed or from the front). Your driver’s manual for your vehicle has this information.
Confirm that your policy is up to date and what it will cover. (Photo: Shutterstock)
7. Proof of insurance. Make sure you have a current insurance card and your driver’s license before leaving home. You also might want to check and see if your insurance will cover a rental car or hotel nights in case of a breakdown or accident.
Related: Drowsy-driving dangers
Make sure to collect as much information as possible if you are involved in an accident. (Photo: Shutterstock)
8. If you are in an accident… Stop (never drive away from an accident); move to the side of the road, but protect the scene as best as possible; call the police; take photos of the damage and scene; get the other driver’s license, insurance information and tag number; report the accident to your insurer and seek medical attention if necessary.
Everyone wants to get to their destination safely, so taking your time and paying attention to where you are going and those around you will help to ensure that you arrive on time and hopefully without any unexpected problems.