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How to Enjoy a Safe Night Out During the Holidays

There’s a theory that the Yuletide holidays, most notably Christmas, occur in the middle of winter because that’s when Germanic tribes believed the boundary between the living and the dead was thinnest.

It makes sense, even if you’re not a Germanic pagan from the first millennium. From a seasonal perspective, it marks the midpoint between the reaping and the sowing, death and life. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks when the nights are longest and coldest.

And yet, they observed such bone-chilling times with joy, gathering together to sing songs and “make merry,” like Charles Dickens wrote. They drank and laughed because their lives (like the day) were short. Today, we are not so different. When winter comes, we still gather together, speak more closely to shield ourselves from the wind, and drink to warm our spirits.

But even with electric lighting at our disposal, Yuletide still brings a kind of darkness: every year during the holidays, there’s an uptick in fatal crashes, especially DUI crashes.

Why Do Fatal Car Accidents Rise During the Holidays?

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 requires 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).

Inclement weather also worsens the effects of poor maintenance. Tires with poor tread, roads in poor condition, and low lighting can all contribute to a fatal accident, drinking-related or otherwise. That’s why the majority of fatal holiday accidents occur along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

The Worst Day & Time to Drive

While holidays differ from typical work days, 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 evening rush hour than the morning rush hour, which might be explained by the fatigue and lack of alertness 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

While the holidays are more dangerous for driving, policymakers also have to 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 being human for the holidays.

What we can do is engage in practices that make our nights a little safer:

  • Appoint a designated driver (and switch off)
  • 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

Staying Safe Opens Up the Opportunity for Drawing Closer

Unlike the seasonal darkness that comes with winter, the darkness of higher 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?

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