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SAFETY CORNER - Christmas Safety Tips: Making it home for the holidays

By Dawn J. Douglas | GARRISON SAFETY OFFICE | December 08, 2017

     Whether it’s making a “Merry Christ­mas!” phone call from behind the wheel, rushing to the next holiday party or in­dulging in some rum eggnog prior to hit­ting the road, people routinely engage in some of the most dangerous driving be­haviors during the holiday season.

     Regardless of whether you are driving locally or preparing for a cross country trip, driving safely is important not only for you, but for those who are sharing America’s roadways.

      Although there are many hazards relat­ing to holiday driving, the most dangerous include these four:

 

DISTRACTED DRIVING

     Many distractions exist while driving, but cell phones are a top distraction because so many drivers use them for long periods of time each day.

     Almost everyone has seen a driver dis­tracted by a cellphone, but when you are the one distracted, you often don't realize that driver is you. This includes driving while using cell phones for both talking and texting holiday messages to friends, co­workers and family. It also includes driving while checking out store hours and loca­tions using a smartphone to surf the web.

     In addition, those who use their cellphone as a Global Positioning Service device incur additional distractions, especially when driving in unfamiliar areas. At the root of driving distractions is the oft-misunderstood myth of multitasking.

     The human brain cannot do two things at the same time – like watch television and hold a phone conversation. The brain actually switches between tasks, which slows down reaction time.

     How many times have you had a phone conversation, while watching your favorite show and realized that you have started to ignore one or the other? Driving and talk­ing are both “thinking tasks.” Even when a person is in the backseat talking to a driver, at least they can see the driving environ­ment, providing another set of eyes. How­ever, having a conversation with someone in the backseat is not the same as speaking to someone on the cellphone. The person on the cellphone is in their own environment and cannot alert you of impending dangers.

     As you’re driving home for the holiday, let your passenger update the family to your arrival time or send salutations and greetings, allowing you to focus on getting to your destination safely. If you’re driving alone, use periods of rest to make the nec­essary phone calls and update friends and family on your road trip progress. They want you to arrive alive!

 

IMPAIRED DRIVING

     Year-end dinners, parties and celebra­tions typically involve consumption of alcohol, and in too many cases, use of drugs. An increase in the number of im­paired drivers using the roadways during the winter holidays has been well-estab­lished by law enforcement, and the loss of life resulting from impaired driving is also well-established. According to BACtrack, a company that produces breath-alcohol detection devices, during the Christmas and New Year period, the average number of fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver rose 34 percent. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol­ism reports that 40 percent of traffic-re­lated deaths during Christmas and New Year's involve drunk drivers — a 12 per­cent increase over the rest of the month of December.

     According to the National Highway Traf­fic Safety Administration, 2,597 people lost their lives due to motor vehicle traffic crashes during December 2010. The NHTSA also found that an average of 36 fatalities occurred each day in the U.S. 2001 and 2005 as a result of crashes involving an alcohol impaired driv­er. That number increased to 45 per day dur­ing the 3-day Christmas period and jumped to 54 per day over New Year’s holiday period.

     While you may be diligent in not driv­ing while impaired, you may share the road with someone who doesn’t exercise the same restraint. Ensuring you are alert and your reaction time is not delayed by other distractions is key in safely arriving to your destination. Be the buddy that doesn’t allow your friends and family to get behind the wheel impaired or intoxicated.

 

PRESSURED DRIVING

     The winter holidays typically bring in­creased pressures, especially financial pres­sures and the stress created by trying to do too much in a short time span. Drivers of­ten react to these pressures by driving too fast for conditions, making aggressive lane changes, failing to yield the right-of-way, and generally disregarding the needs and safety of others.

     Whether it’s shopping for last min­ute gifts, or trying to get to the company Christmas party on time, pressured driving can cause serious accidents, especially in times of inclement weather. Give yourself plenty of time to do the things you need to do in a day and space out your tasks so you can relieve some holiday pressure.

 

FATIGUED DRIVING

     Increased demands and activities during the winter holidays often mean significantly reduced sleep schedules. According to a study by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who slept 6-7 hours a night were twice as likely to be involved in a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more, while people sleeping less than 5 hours increased their risk four to five times. Vacation days often go by too fast and trying to pack a month’s worth of activity in a week’s vacation is a recipe for disaster.

      Team Riley, the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Riley Safety Office wants you to celebrate sober and arrive alive to your holiday destination. For more tips, call 785-240-0647.