For many people, the holiday season truly is "the most wonderful time of the year," with plenty of social gatherings, parties, and reunions. This is more true than ever in 2022, as people look to leave pandemic isolation behind and reunite with friends and families to close out the year. AAA estimates that 3.6 million more cars will be on the road compared to this time last year.
Unfortunately, the increased number of travelers, weather events, and free-flowing alcohol means that the holiday season is also a dangerous time for drivers. Here's what you need to know about the risks — and how to stay safe when you hit the road this December.
Post-Pandemic Driving: The Big Picture
If you've found yourself thinking that driving has gotten worse since the pandemic, you're right. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), drivers are up to 43% more likely to drive at 10 mph or more above the speed limit now. This risky behavior led to a 5% increase in speeding fatalities in 2021.
Even when speed isn't a factor, the roads are more dangerous than ever. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 42,915 people were killed in car accidents in 2021. This represents a 10.5% jump over the previous year and is the highest death rate since 2005.
Holiday Drinking and Driving
The same NHTSA study also shows a 5% increase in drunk driving fatalities in 2021. This is despite strict DUI laws that can lead to the loss of driving privileges in most states. The National Safety Council found that 39% of holiday traffic deaths in 2020 involved alcohol. The NSC estimates that 346 people will die in Christmas car accidents in 2022. It also estimates that there will be 39,500 nonfatal injuries from car crashes during the holidays.
"The unfortunate reality is that every year come holiday time, there's more drinking, and there are more drinking and driving — which leads to more accidents and more deaths," said Laura Adams, safety and education analyst at DriversEd.com. "The solution is actually simple: if you’re drinking, arrange for someone else to drive or call for an Uber, Lyft, or taxi. Period. Any death caused by drinking and driving is a death that was entirely preventable."
It's worth noting that impaired driving isn’t caused solely by alcohol. Driving while under the influence of marijuana leads to slow reaction time, impairs the judgment of time and distance, and decreases coordination. With legalization increasing cannabis use, drivers should remember that driving while high is also dangerous. If you're high, don't drive — and don't get into a car with a driver who has been smoking, vaping, or consuming edibles.
How to Stay Safe on the Road This Holiday Season
So what's a driver to do? As you plan your holiday travel, keep these safety tips in mind:
Stay Flexible: Check the weather early and often, and consider adjusting your travel dates to avoid heavy rain, snow, and ice.
Stay Alert: Whenever possible, drive during daylight hours. Take breaks when needed so you don't engage in drowsy driving.
Stay Sober: If you plan to drink or use recreational drugs, take an Uber or call a cab. Remember that buzzed driving is still drunk driving.
Drivers can be proactive this holiday season by practicing defensive driving techniques when behind the wheel. That means keeping down your speed and keeping track of other drivers on the road. It's also never too late to brush up on your defensive driving skills in a convenient online course — and you can start the New Year with an insurance discount for your effort!