Holiday Driving: The Most Dangerous Time of the Year

91% of Americans agree the roads are more dangerous during the holiday seasonThe holiday season presents additional challenges for drivers. And we’re keenly aware of the added danger brought about by these challenges. In a recent survey of American drivers, we found that 91% of respondents agreed that the roads are generally more dangerous during the holiday season than they are at other times of the year. 

But why? What makes the roads so dangerous during the holidays? How is COVID-19 impacting drivers this holiday season? And what can we do to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and everyone else on the roads this holiday season? 

Let’s take a closer look at the dangers of holiday driving.

What Makes the Holidays Such a Dangerous Time for Drivers?

There are several reasons why the holiday season makes our roadways more dangerous. Some ways are fairly obvious and others might surprise you.

Reason 1: More Drivers are on the Road, Attending Holiday Events

The holidays are a time for holiday parties and family gatherings. And that usually requires some additional road travel. In our recent survey, 87% of panelists said that they already have plans to attend at least one holiday gathering, celebration, or party between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day.

This means we will have more cars on the road. And more cars means greater risk of crashing. 

72% of American adults agree that they tend to drink more heavily during the holiday seasonReason 2: Holiday Drinking

Holiday drinking and driving is a big problem. And it has gotten worse during the pandemic. 

73% of survey respondents agreed that there are typically more drunk drivers on the roads during the holiday season. 

And many of our panelists admit to imbibing themselves during the holidays.

72% agree that they tend to drink more heavily during the holiday season than they do at other times of the year (a lot more with panelists estimating their consumption goes up by an average of 40 percent). And 83% said that they are likely to consume alcoholic beverages at holiday events. Even worse, the pandemic has increased alcohol consumption for many Americans. 4 in 10 respondents admitted that they formed heavier drinking habits during the pandemic.

And we’re generally less-than-vigilant about avoiding drinking and driving. Only 19% of those surveyed said they have a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to drinking and driving (meaning that they won’t drive if they’ve had even one alcoholic beverage). And only 7% report using a scientific method (like a personal breathalyzer or online BAC calculator) to determine when they’re over the limit.

Reason 3: Unwillingness to Use Public Transportation Due to COVID Concerns

In the “before times,” when we wanted to drink at a holiday party, we would simply use a taxi or rideshare service to help us get home safely. But this option also comes with risks now, thanks to COVID. In fact, 71% say they won’t be using taxis or rideshare services this holiday season due to concerns about COVID contagion. 

Reason 4: Long Road Trips

Many Americans hit the road to visit family and friends during the holidays. And with COVID still being a real concern, lots of Americans are skipping planes and trains where they would be exposed to the general public. 67% of survey respondents are planning to drive to their holiday gathering destinations. Not only does this mean more traffic on the roads, but it increases the likelihood of encountering a drowsy driver who’s put in several hours on the road without a break. 

Reason 5: Short Days and Bad Weather

There are a disproportionate number of traffic deaths after dark than during daylight. So we already have an increased accident risk simply because of winter’s shorter daylight hours. 

Add in icy, windy, snowy, or wet weather conditions, and the roads become much more dangerous. Three-quarters of respondents admitted to having more “close calls” driving in icy or windy weather conditions. And, sadly, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) have actually been in a car wreck due to icy, windy, or wet weather in the past.

How Do 2021 Holiday Plans Compare to 2020?

Back in 2020, many Americans were taking COVID seriously. 41% of our respondents said they did not attend any holiday parties or gatherings in 2020, following safety guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. 

73% of Americans agreed they would be driving their cars more this holiday season due to COVID-related concernsBut, as we’ve mentioned, 87% of our panelists have plans for holiday gatherings in 2021:

  • 48% say they are currently planning to join two celebrations, parties, or events,

  • 27%  will be making an appearance at three events according to their current plans,

  • And 10% plan to attend four or more events this holiday season.

We’re also planning on drinking more this season (whether to celebrate a return to normalcy or to cope with the stress of the year). 69% of respondents predict that they will drink even more alcohol over the 2021 holiday season than they usually do.

And we’re planning lots of driving. 73% said they would be driving their cars more this holiday season due to COVID-related concerns. 

Drivers are More Concerned About Holiday Driving in 2021 Than They Were in 2020.

We already mentioned that 91% of respondents agreed that the roads are generally more dangerous during the holiday season than they are at other times of the year. Interestingly, in our 2020 holiday driving survey, this number was only 53%. Why are drivers more concerned this year?

One likely answer is that we’re at a unique balance between returning to normalcy after the pandemic while remaining cautious about new strains. As the COVID vaccinations rolled out in 2021, more Americans became comfortable with the idea of making plans for the 2021 holiday season, so we will be out and about more this year. But we’re simultaneously uncomfortable with the idea of mixing with the general public, so we’re still avoiding rideshare services and driving instead of flying, which means we could see more traffic on the roads. 

And since we know that increased traffic usually increases car crash rates (particularly when those drivers are drowsy or inebriated), we’re naturally more concerned about the potential for elevated risk on the roads during the 2021 holiday season.

Ways to Stay Safe on the Roads During the Holidays

So far, we’ve presented a fairly bleak picture of holiday season driving conditions. Luckily, there are several things you can do to help stay safe on the road through the holidays.

  • Never drink and drive. If you know you’ll be drinking, and you’re concerned about COVID contagion from a rideshare, plan ahead with a vaccinated designated driver and a group of vaccinated passengers to get home safely.

  • Don’t drive drowsy. If you’ll be driving a fair distance to see family and friends this year, plan to take regular breaks and get plenty of sleep the night before your trip.

  • Avoid distractions. Distractions kill thousands of drivers and passengers each year. Put your phone away, stop multitasking, and focus on driving safely.

  • Follow all signs and speed limits. They’re there for a reason.

  • Enroll in a defensive driving course. Since you can’t control the behaviors of other drivers, it’s smart to account for their potentially unsafe driving practices by learning the principles of defensive driving.   

Practice safe driving this holiday season, and enjoy many more holiday seasons to come. 

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