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Holidays and Traffic Accidents

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The holiday season is reving up. Soon some of the busiest holidays will be upon us. On the Thanksgiving weekend, the busiest of all holidays for road traffic, 91% of those traveling are doing so in an automobile.

For as often as people casually do it, getting into an automobile is the most dangerous activity a person does each day. Dying in an automobile crash is the #1 cause of death in those 1-34 years of age. On average 110 people die each day in an automobile crash.

The most dangerous day of the week to drive? Saturday – when on average 143 people die in a traffic accident. The most dangerous time of the day to drive? At night. While only 49% of traffic fatalities are at night, miles driven are only one third of daytime miles – meaning it is three times as dangerous to drive at night.

Is it getting more dangerous to drive an automobile? Actually since 1982, when statistics first were being kept by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for each mile driven it has become 17 times safer to drive – because of all the safety features now built into cars – anti-lock brakes, side airbags, three point seat belts, etc.

So why the continuing traffic fatalities? #1 cause – the number of people on the road. The safest time to drive is 4-5 am on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning – when there is only 9% of the traffic as compared to the average number of drivers on the road during the rest of the day.

The other contributing factors?

#2 cause – not using seat belts. Two-thirds of fatally injured night-time drivers are not wearing seat belts as compared to 30% of daytime fatalities.

#3 cause – alcohol is a major factor in 54% of night time fatalities as compared to 18% of daytime fatalities. It has been shown recently that being distracted – by texting or by cell phone use or by fixing the hair or by eating breakfast – is as impairing as being legally drunk.

#4 cause – speeding contributes to 30% of fatalities.

And now it is the holiday season when all of these causes are compounded. The traffic increases by over 50% on the five busiest holidays and the fatality rates increase by 4 ½ – 5 times. Thanksgiving is the worst with an average of 567 deaths for the day (not counting the days before or after) – followed by Labor Day with 544 fatalities, Independence Day with 542 fatalities, Memorial Day with 508 fatalities, and Christmas Day with 414 fatalities on average.

The causes are the same. There are more people driving more miles over longer hours and getting more tired and inattentive to their driving. On average 50% of these people are not wearing their seat belts (better than the night time drivers) and 20-30% of them admit to driving 15 miles an hour over the speed limit.

But the most consistent factor in holiday fatalities? Alcohol is a major factor in 40-45% of all fatalities in all five of the deadliest holidays. And on New Year’s Day alcohol is a contributor in over 50% of the fatal traffic accidents.

Bottom Line: Let this holiday season be a time for building good family memories and not be a time to erect a memorial to someone’s untimely death. Drive safely. Happy Holidays.

Author

Max Wayne Hammonds was born Aug 3, 1943, in northeastern Indiana, in the county hospital in Wabash. He attended high school and college in his home town of North Manchester and attended Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. Following an internship in South Bend, IN and a year of flight medicine in the Air Force, he took a residency in anesthesiology at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.