By Dr. Nina Radcliff
As we plan our road trips during these busy holidays – whether to a friend’s home, our place of work, to shop, or “over the river and through the woods” to a favorite getaway spot – with prep and wise road navigating, you can leave the road-trip stress behind and enjoy your holiday travel.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a higher volume of holiday travelers, including a significantly higher number of alcohol-impaired drivers, results in more crashes and fatalities at this time of year. The statistics from NHTSA are staggering, reporting that nationwide, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes on Christmas and New Year’s than in comparable time periods during the rest of the year. And, too, travelers are at an increased risk when Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on a Friday or Saturday—like this year. People tend to drink more on weekend holidays.
Additionally, on holidays, more vehicles are on the road, weather conditions may be dicey, and there are increased distractions—all making it difficult to stay safe on the road. As I write this, medical professionals and hospitals throughout our nation are gearing up for the holiday traffic trauma.
I want you to share some reminders of important tips from experts to help gear-up during your holiday travel — and to help make your driving time more enjoyable and safe.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: Holiday Driving Safety
Buckle Up! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that seat belt use can reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half–it is the single most effective way to save lives. And, according to recent research by NHTSA, in 2014 alone, seat belts saved 12,802 lives. So, before driving away, make sure to fasten your seat belt and that all passengers have buckled up–each and every trip, no matter how short.
Understand too, if the seat belt is not properly fastened, it is not effective:
- The shoulder harness should be worn across the shoulder bone, down the middle of the chest, and away from the neck. Do not place it behind the back or under the arm. And make sure to remove any slack.
- The lap belt should lie low across the hips and below the stomach. It should be snug.
- Pregnant women can place the lap belt below their belly, and the shoulder belt across their chest (between the breasts)
- Children under the age of 13 years should be properly buckled in the backseat. While facts shows that properly used child car seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71% in infants and 54% in toddlers, unfortunately, a shocking 73% of car seats are not used or installed correctly!
- Make sure to read both the manufacturer’s instructions as well as vehicle owner’s manual to ensure that the car seat is properly installed and that the belts are appropriately positioned over the child’s body.
- And, too, it is recommended that children are kept in their car seat for as long as possible based on the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements. And as children get older, booster seats should be used. Compelling research shows that they reduce the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4 to 8 years of age, compared to seat belts alone.
Distracted driving: The U.S. Department of Safety, describes this term as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety.” Common vehicle activities that often result in distractions include texting, using a cell phone or hands-free device, eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video and adjusting a radio or MP3 player.
The statistics are frightening—and it has become a leading cause of death on our roads! At any given moment approximately 660,000 drivers are handling their cell phones or electronic devices while their motor vehicle is in motion. And despite public service campaigns highlighting the dangers as well as laws to issue moving violation tickets with hefty penalties for doing so, this number has held steady. When driving, we must stay focused on our responsibility –and never engage in texting or any other behaviors that distracts us!!
Driving while drowsy (sleepy, asleep, or fatigued): Being tired or drowsy when driving is very dangerous – and we should not be driving. It impairs reaction time, judgment, vigilance, and vision and can actually lead to drifting off to sleep. While you may feel it, there is no test to confirm that you are drowsy. Some signs include: difficulty focusing; frequent blinking; daydreaming; yawning; drifting from your lane; or feeling restless or irritable, or transfixed.
Don’t drive when drowsy — ensure you get a good night of sleep; schedule regular stops; avoid medications that are sedating, and, if possible, drive with an adult companion. When experiencing any drowsiness, pull over into a safe location. While you may take a walk to break any monotony or even a 15-20 minute nap, you can also consider drinking a cup of caffeinated beverage. However, the best, the wisest and safest advice is to stay off the road until you get the sleep or rest you need — and feel refreshed to take the responsibility for the road ahead.
Lane changing precautions: Experts agree that we should keep lane changes to a minimum. When your lane is ending and there is a hazard or obstacle in your lane, or the vehicle in front of you is driving slower than the speed limit, you want to pass safely. Avoid weaving in and out of lanes of traffic. Studies have shown that lane changing in heavy traffic seldom saves time, but can cause accidents.
Always remember to check the rearview and side mirrors, as well as do an over-the-shoulder visual check to ensure that there are no vehicles in your blind spot. And, too, turn on your turn signal—you want vehicles around you to be aware that you are planning to change lanes.
Driving Under the Influence
Millions of Americans have been killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes—accounting for approximately one-third of all traffic-related deaths. And each and every one was preventable, unnecessary, and tragic.
Unfortunately, many drivers incorrectly believe that they can calculate their own blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or that drinking coffee or an energy drink can sober them up. The only thing that helps you get sober is time. If you are going to have a drink, designate a driver – do not drive. Period.
As you prepare for our roads this holiday season, remember to be especially watchful. As well, adding to these, be sure that your vehicle is properly maintained and serviced for road conditions and anticipate adverse weather conditions during the holidays.
Double check that you have your trip mapped out – and safety gear in the car –
in advance. Some experts recommend if possible to schedule travel times before or after heaviest traffic times. Also, if you encounter a driver that is tailgating, honking, flashing their headlights, talking on their cell phones, you can avoid a potentially dangerous situation by backing off. The Department of Motor Vehicles reminds us that “you can’t control another driver’s behavior, but you can control your own.”
Facts are there are increased demands on our roadways during the holidays. It is important– every mile– NOT to engage in any pressured driving. Don’t react to the pressures or demands of the holidays by pushing you when you feel tired or the visibility or weather is not good – or you need to be “there” by a certain time. Take good care of yourself by regarding the needs and safety of you, your passengers and others using the road. This holiday season, take this list and check it twice – and stay safe out there.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.