Not just drunk driving, but all car accidents see higher fatality rates during the holidays. In 2017, the NHTSA once recorded a 20% increase in fatalities during major holidays compared to other times of the year. A major contributing factor to those higher rates, of course, is an uptick in drinking.
However, it’s not just drinking that affects people’s driving. Holidays generate increased traffic as more people are shopping, running errands, or attending social events. Inclement weather and icy roads also require slower driving, which congests the roads. At the same time, drivers experience higher stress levels in traffic, which can contribute to risky driving maneuvers (like turning left into oncoming traffic with too little time). During the holidays, we are also more likely to see additional trucks, vans, and other vehicles rushing to make deliveries on time.
Inclement weather also worsens the effects of poor maintenance. Tires with poor tread, roads in poor condition, and low lighting can all contribute to fatal accidents, drinking-related or otherwise. That’s why the majority of fatal holiday accidents occur along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
All of these factors enhance the effects of drunk driving. A driver who is even slightly intoxicated is more likely to be involved in a collision when visibility is poor because of snow or sleet. Increased traffic makes it more likely that you’ll be sharing the road with a drunk driver. During the winter holiday season, we need to be especially vigilant about driving safely.
The Worst Day & Time to Drive
While holidays differ from typical workdays, traffic fatality studies have shown that the most dangerous time to drive is typically Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, especially between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. There were 85% more fatal car accidents during the evening rush hour than during the morning rush hour, which might be explained by the fatigue and lack of alertness that many people experience at the end of the day.
The fact that evening hours on the weekends are the worst days for fatal car accidents points toward one possibility: nightlife is a major contributor to car crashes, alcohol-related or otherwise. It would certainly explain why holiday weekends are so dangerous—an extra weekend night for revelry means an extra night of heightened fatalities.
Practices to Make a Safer Holiday: What We Can Do
While the holidays are more dangerous for driving, policymakers also must be realistic. Holidays are a time for celebration, and that includes a.) social events, and b.) drinking responsibly. We can’t ask people to stop socializing and being human for the holidays.
What we can do is engage in practices that make our holiday nights a little safer.
If you’re planning on hitting the road this holiday season, whether it’s to a local spot or across the country, you can take a few relatively simple steps to protect yourself and your loved ones:
- Appoint a designated driver
- Pack an overnight bag if you’re partying at a friend’s place
- Tell people where you’re going and when to expect you home
- Prepare a guest room or sleeping space for guests who drink too much
- Uber or take a taxi wherever you’re going
- Have a friend to call if you need a ride home
- Make sure your car is suited for winter weather or a long road trip, if you’re taking one
- Speak up and prevent friends or family members from driving drunk
Bars & Restaurants Are Responsible, Too
Bars, restaurants, and other establishments that serve alcohol during the holidays also bear some responsibility for keeping drunk drivers off the road. Every state (except for Nevada and South Dakota) has some version of dram shop laws, which essentially hold establishments that serve alcoholic beverages accountable for over-serving patrons who cause serious harm to others—such as by causing drunk driving accidents.
For example, Susan goes to a local restaurant with her sister and her sister’s children, who are in town for the holidays. Susan has several glasses of wine with dinner and starts acting out. She’s loud and belligerent, demanding another glass of wine. And another. Her waiter complies, even though she’s obviously intoxicated. A little while later, Susan asks for the check. She pays the bill, grabs her keys from her purse, and walks out to her car. While she’s driving home, she goes the wrong way on a busy street and collides head-on with a large SUV. The people in the SUV suffer only minor injuries, but Susan’s sister does not survive. Her two teenage children are seriously injured.
Depending on the state in which this fictional accident occurred, the restaurant could be held liable, or legally responsible, for continuing to serve Susan alcohol and allowing her to drive away while obviously drunk. This same principle could even apply in cases involving holiday work parties or events at private homes.
Other Ways to Stay Safe During the Holidays
When it comes to holiday drunk driving accidents, accountability doesn’t stop with individual people and bars or restaurants. We must also consider factors like maintaining safe roadways and how companies deal with hiring additional drivers to make holiday deliveries. Winter storms and increased traffic make any collision more likely, and for a driver who is already intoxicated, they can create the perfect recipe for disaster.
Learn more about winter weather and driving during the holidays in the following blogs:
- 5 Types of Dangerous Holiday Driving Hazards
- Can Truck Drivers Say No to Driving in Bad Weather?
- Holiday Delivery Truck Accidents
- How to Drive a Semi-Truck Safely During Winter
We All Deserve a Safe Holiday Season
Unlike the seasonal darkness and heavy weather that winter brings, the blight of increased traffic fatalities during the holidays is something that we, collectively, can control. Every time you call an Uber, appoint a designated driver, or invite your inebriated guests to sleep in a guest bedroom, you’re creating a little light in the darkness. Isn’t that what the holidays have always been?