The increase in traffic around Christmas can be deadly – but our top 7 safety tips can help you survive the dangers.

If it seems like your commute has become more congested, it’s not your imagination. The bustle of the holiday traffic increase is real. And so is the risk increase that results from this phenomenon.

Holiday Traffic Statistics

It’s a holiday tradition no one wants to observe – the one that claims hundreds of lives in a matter of just a few days. The holiday season – including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve – is among the most dangerous times of year in terms of fatal motor vehicle accidents. Often, the number of fatal accidents over the holidays is in the thousands.

The lowest number of Christmas Day traffic fatalities in recent years was still 88, the National Safety Council (NSC) reported – a shockingly high number of deaths. But that pales in comparison to the 355 Christmas Day traffic deaths that the NSC reported for the following year.

And accidents, particularly those involving drunk drivers, are even more common on nights like Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It’s on these days that the parties that involve copious amounts of alcohol most commonly take place.

The 2016 holiday season isn’t likely to be any better – and research suggests that it could be worse than usual. In 2015, the United States saw the largest increase in annual traffic deaths that it’s seen in 50 years, Forbes reported. That doesn’t bode well for a safe holiday season this year, either.

What Makes the Holiday Season So Dangerous?

There are a number of reasons why so many fatalities occur on our nation’s roadways during the holiday season. For one thing, more people are on the roads for longer distances. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that the number of long-distance trips rises by 23 percent during the holidays – and more than 90 percent of those trips is a road trip.

The sheer number of extra cars on the road, driving extra miles, can increase the traffic, raising the risk of a crash. But there are other factors at play, too. Motorists are more likely to drive under the influence, often under the mistaken impression that they “didn’t drink that much.” With their minds on the festivities – shopping, gift-giving, favorite holiday treats – drivers may not be paying as much attention to the road as they need to be. In addition to dunk driving and distracted driving, drivers also need to worry about sleep-deprived motorists engaging in drowsy driving – which can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence.

7 Essential Tips for Surviving Holiday Traffic

It’s always a good idea to drive defensively. But making safe and smart decisions behind the wheel is particularly important at dangerous times of the year, including Christmas.

With more than 20 years of experience handling motor vehicle accident claims, we know what kinds of actions can lead to an accident – and what steps cautious drivers can take to minimize their risk. These top 7 driving safety tips can make your holiday season a lot more peaceful.

  1. holiday-traffic-blog-post-2016-1Don’t speed. The faster you’re going, the more difficult it will be to avoid an obstacle in your path – and the harder the impact will be if there is a collision. Always follow posted speed limit signs, but also use your best judgment and slow down in congested situations or dangerous road conditions.
  2. Maintain a safe following distance from the car in front of you, and don’t tailgate. Ask yourself, if the person in front of you braked suddenly (even for no obvious reason), would you be able to stop in time? If not, back off and put some more distance between your car and theirs.
  3. Adjust your speed and following distance if you’re dealing with snow, rain, or other potentially dangerous road conditions. Remember, you can’t stop as quickly on slippery roadways – and it’s your responsibility as the driver to account for that.
  4. Never drive while intoxicated – it’s never worth the risk. Plan in advance so that you have a (sober) designated driver, or use a taxi or ridesharing service to make sure you get home safely without putting your life – and others’ lives – at risk.
  5. Put down the cell phone. Texting while behind the wheel claims thousands of lives every year. Like drunk driving, texting and driving is simply not worth it. If you must send a text, pull over, or have a passenger send the message for you. Similarly, be careful when it comes to making phone calls while driving. Even though many states allow the use of hands-free phones behind the wheel, research has shown that taking a phone call distracts motorists from the only thing they should be focusing on – the road.
  6. Wear a seat belt every time you get in the vehicle. During the holiday season – and especially on Christmas and New Year’s – experts estimate that seat belts prevent dozens of deaths on a single day. If you have children, make sure they’re protected by buckling them into the appropriate car seat or booster seat for their age and size.
  7. Take your time. Of course you’re eager to get where you’re going. But getting frustrated in traffic jams, engaging in road rage behaviors with other drivers, and making risky maneuvers won’t get you home for the holidays any faster. In fact, getting into an accident or altercation could not just derail your holiday plans but also lead to some serious long-term consequences.You know there’s going to be traffic, so plan ahead and leave for your destination early. Don’t try to stick to an unrealistically tight schedule, and give yourself some breathing room in case you do get delayed. Remember, it’s not getting to your destination quickly that really matters – it’s getting to your destination safely.

It’s tragic how many people lose their lives in traffic accidents during the holidays. Following these 7 safety tips can go a long way toward reducing the chances that you will be involved in a crash. Unfortunately, nothing you do can control the actions of a less careful driver behind the wheel. If you do encounter a dangerous driver on the road, please know that you have legal rights – and that with the right help, you can get your life back on track.