Christmas is a time for families to get together, and for many of us that involves some long-distance driving.
But Christmas is also a time when driving conditions are far from their best. The days are at their shortest, which means we’re doing more of our driving in the dark. And the weather’s getting colder, which means ice, snow and slippery roads.
It’s more important than ever to prepare carefully and drive safely. None of us wants to spend Christmas Eve, predicted to be the one of the busiest on the roads, broken down by the side of the road.
Find out how you can promote safe driving during the holidays.
Safe holiday driving
In the US, the holiday season kicks off a little earlier than other countries like Australia. Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday of November) is often referred to as the beginning of their holiday period and is, in fact, one of the most dangerous times of the year to drive.
In countries where Christmas falls during winter, the combination of heavier traffic with unfavorable weather conditions like rain, sleet and snow, and the decisions drivers make on the roads suddenly become riskier. This is why we are overwhelmed with pleas from our emergency services every year to practice safe holiday driving. Further, these holiday periods are a fantastic opportunity for college students to travel long distances to return home.
Drink-driving is just one cause of accidents during these holiday periods; younger, inexperienced drivers become susceptible to distractions and drowsiness when they are driving long stretches of road to get home in time for the holidays.
Why are the holidays such a dangerous time on our roads?
Celebrations, parties, and festivities are all part of the holiday season. There’s no doubt it’s a valued time of the year… who doesn’t love spending time with friends and family and getting a well-deserved break from the office? But that extra eggnog might be enough to push you into an official drink-driving range, and you can bet your Christmas presents that police officer will be out in full force to fight against drink driving. If you know you’re going to be drinking or are easily tempted into a couple of celebratory drinks, there’s nothing wrong with that. But be smart: arrange transport or a designated driver, or plan in advance to stay the night nearby.
The holiday season sometimes makes us a little frantic. We feel there’s so much to do (buying presents, organizing food, and packing for the family are just three of many things!) that it’s easy to feel like we’re rushing through the entire season.
As a result, people tend to rush to their destinations. They get easily agitated at traffic, weather and other obstacles hindering their journey.
Now, depending on where you’re located, the weather during December will vary considerably.
In the northern hemisphere, drivers can come face to face with extreme winter conditions including snow, heavy rains, sleet, and ice. These dangerous conditions can result in drivers facing dangerous driving decisions.
Down in the southern hemisphere, drivers are often battling with hot and humid weather and fairly frequent tropical storms. What’s more, long stretches of monotonous roads on desolate highways result in droopy eyelids, yawning, and head jerks.
Prepare yourself for your long-distance drive. Ensure the car is packed and clothes are ready well in advance. Knowing you won’t have to get up earlier than necessary for last-minute packing means you can start your journey fully rested with a good night’s sleep. Enjoy a hearty breakfast before you leave, and keep a big bottle of water handy at all times. You should also plan ahead (especially if you’re driving in unfamiliar territory) by looking up suitable rest stops throughout your trip.
You should be stopping for a minimum of 15 minutes at least every two hours, and if possible, take advantage of driver swaps.
We’re not judging; it’s evidence-based!
Research conducted in the US found that drivers under the age of 30 are a greater risk on the road than any other drivers. Further, the research showed that the most dangerous group is males aged 16-29.
Inexperience and distracted driving are two factors affecting road safety and combined with holiday travel (long hours on the road, increased traffic, and perhaps difficult weather conditions) make driving during the holidays one of the riskiest times of the year for teens and young adults.
Get to your destination safely: holiday driving tips
Plan your journey
Before you set off, it’s always worth mapping out your route, including choosing where you’re going to stop for a rest and fill up on fuel. Also, check the weather forecast, and if the weather is poor or the road surface is dangerous, decide whether you need to travel or if you can wait until the conditions improve.
You should also allow extra time for your journey, as the roads might be busier than usual and poor weather can easily hold up traffic.
Before you set out, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to arrive, and keep in contact with friends and family where possible.
When we say early, we mean it!
Tack at least an hour onto your arrival time estimate. If you’re fighting against traffic in order to meet a tight deadline, frustration will take over and you’re more likely to make irrational and perhaps even dangerous driving decisions.
Occupy kids and restrain pets
Pets and kids can cause an awful lot of distractions in the car, and bored minds need to be occupied! Give kids options like coloring and puzzle books or music and movies on a portable device, or kill some time playing simple car games like I Spy, 20 Questions, and more.
Pets should be properly restrained so they are safe and comfortable and don’t pose a distraction to the driver.
Recognize the signs of drowsiness
This is one of the most important holiday driving tips. It’s absolutely crucial that you listen to your body when it’s telling you it’s drowsy and needs to rest! Look out for these signs:
- Droopy eyelids
- Drifting in lanes
- Wandering thoughts
- Missing traffic signals or signs
- Inability to remember the last few minutes of travel
Beware of low sun
As well as being a season of snow and ice, winter is also the time of year when the sun is lowest in the sky. Be careful not to be blinded by the glare. Keep your windscreen especially clean, wear sunglasses when necessary and slow down if visibility is poor.
Prepare the car
Make sure your lights, brakes, tires, and battery are all in good working order. Top up your windscreen wash, antifreeze, and oil. And clear the whole windscreen of any snow or ice before you start driving.
- Get it serviced and check the essentials (tires, oil, brakes, fluid, lights) are all in good order
- Pack some snacks and lots of water for grumbling tummies
- Pack an emergency and a first aid kit
- Update your GPS so it's equipped with the latest maps
Merry Christmas from the 2BEsafe team. No matter how you are celebrating this holiday season, stay safe and alert!