The holiday season is the most dangerous time of the year for drivers. Wintery weather, drunk and tired drivers, hectic shoppers, increased traffic, and stressed-out motorists all contribute to dangerous driving conditions. In fact, USA Today estimated that there are approximately 95 million people on the road between Thanksgiving and New Year, of which nearly 28,000 are likely to suffer severe injuries in a car accident. 250 are expected to die from these incidents.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family from accidents this holiday season?

1. Drive defensively.

Now is the time to take a defensive driving course. Even if you are the best driver in the world, you can’t control the actions of others on the road. Learning to drive defensively can help you expect the unexpected, spot suspicious road behavior, and protect yourself before danger hits.

Plus, taking a driving course may even get you a discount on your auto insurance premium. If you have teen drivers, the best way to keep them safe—and reduce their hefty insurance premiums—is signing them up for a defensive driving course.

P.S. You and your children should always be wearing a seatbelt. Not only is it the law in most states, but it’s also the best defense in the case of a collision.

2. Drive sober.

Over 33% of auto crashes during the holiday season involve an intoxicated driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Board. A DUI (“driving under the influence”) has serious consequences. Your license could be suspended, you could be fined, or you could be put in jail. Worse yet, you could severely injure or kill someone. The legal limit for driving impaired is 0.08%, which is one drink for most people.

Always have a designated driver in your party. After one drink in the beginning of the night, switch to water or soda. If you are too drunk to drive, even by a little bit, call an Uber or stay at the host’s house. Most hosts won’t mind you spending the night if you’re too drunk to drive.

If you’re the host, always offer food to help absorb any alcohol. Never let an intoxicated guest drive home. Take their keys and offer to call them a cab or give them a bed. Keep in mind that if a DUI accident were to occur while someone were coming home from your party, you may be considered liable in some cases. You can prevent drunk driving.

Remember, it’s also illegal to drive with an open container in your car. If you are bringing alcohol to a party, place a new, sealed bottle in the trunk. 

3. Don’t drive tired.

Drowsy driving is equally as bad as drunk driving. Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that even missing 1-2 hours of the recommended 7 can nearly double a driver’s risk for a crash.

Sleeping seems few and far between the holiday season, but it’s crucial to make time for proper sleep in order to keep your health and safety in check. If you’re driving long distances, take a break every two hours, avoid eating heavy foods (like turkey), and drive with an alert passenger who can share the driving. Never drive while on prescription or over-the-counter medicines that make you drowsy, like NyQuil or Sudafed.

Did you know that turkey contains L-tryptophan, which is a natural sedative? Make sure to take that Thanksgiving nap before driving home.

4. Don’t drive stressed.

Similarly, anxious or stressed driving is a leading cause of accidents during the holiday season. The toy store didn’t have the toy your child has been begging Santa for, and you take it out on the road. Aggressive driving is a dangerous way to increase your risk for accidents. Try to relax while driving. Turn on some holiday music and belt it out. Think about spending time with your family and friends. Remember what the holidays are really about—fun, family, and safety.

5. Drive slowly.

We know you’re rushing to get to the mall or your mother-in-law’s holiday party, but fast driving in the holiday season is an increased and unnecessary danger. It’s better to be five minutes late than to not show up at all.

Always follow the speed limit and leave at least 2 car lengths in front of you when driving. If the weather is bad, leave 4 car lengths between you and the vehicle in front of you. This will give you time to react in case the other car skids, hydroplanes, or brakes unexpectedly.

6. Don’t drive on crazy days.

Some days are notorious for traffic and accidents. “Crazed road days” include Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and the day before Thanksgiving. Be careful driving during party weekends, like Thanksgiving weekend or New Year’s Eve. People drink and eat a lot during the holidays, which tend to cause unsafe driving practices.

If possible, travel on the holiday as opposed to the day before. There are actually more accidents and traffic concerns on the eve of a holiday than on the holiday itself. You should also try to get your shopping done early so you’re not fighting wild mall traffic a few days before the holiday. Engage in Cyber Monday shopping from the comfort of your home to avoid the mobs at Black Friday sales.

7. Don’t drive in bad weather.

Avoid driving in bad weather to avoid uncontrollable accidents from ice and snow. Always check the weather reports before leaving the house. If you have to drive in bad weather, always slow down near ice. Ice is most common in intersections, bridges, and overpasses.

If you start to hydroplane, steer into the skid, not against it. This will help you regain control of the car so you can swerve away from any nearby objects.

Don’t forget to turn on your headlights at night and in rain or snow. Don’t turn your headlights on in fog, as this can actually make it harder to see.

8. Put your phone away.

Never use your phone or electronic devices while driving. Nearly 1.6 million crashes with 330,000 injuries are caused each year by texting and driving. In fact, texting and driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than drunk driving. Worse yet, approximately 11 teens die every day as a result of texting and driving.

Put your phone in the back seat. Don’t answer while driving. Be a good role model for your teens and kids so they won’t have a texting accident this holiday season.

9. Organize your car.

If you’re driving at 55mph, taking your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds will have you driving the length of a football field without even looking up. Organize your car to ensure what you need is in reach and what you don’t need is out of sight.

Keep necessary items within easy reach of the driver’s seat. Put toll cards, garage passes, and spare change in the center console. Avoid bending down or reaching in your purse to pick up items while you’re on the road.

Secure your packages in the backseat. If you hear something fall, don’t attempt to pick it up while driving. It can wait. Pull over if you need to ensure something didn’t break or spill.

10. Get your car checked.

Before nasty winter weather hits, bring your car in for an inspection. Make sure your mechanic checks the lights, oil, tires, belts, hoses, brake fluid, antifreeze fluid, and battery. This can help ensure you don’t break down during a storm or get stranded at home on your way to a holiday party. Now is the time to winterize your car.

11. Be prepared for emergencies.

You should always keep an emergency kit in the trunk of your car. This should include:

  • Blankets
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight
  • Non-perishable food
  • Water
  • Window scraper
  • Phone charger

Always keep your phone fully charged. Have AAA and your insurance company programmed in your contacts so you can easily get in touch with nearby service providers if you get stuck in a jam.

The Bottom Line

If you drive defensively and make good choices on the road, you won’t be a holiday accident statistic.

Don’t forget to protect the safety of your wallet as well. Contact an InsuraMatch agent to ensure your car is fully protected against all holiday driving risks.