Holiday Driving Safety Amid COVID-19

Driving during the holiday season comes with a few additional challenges when compared to driving during the rest of the year. Several factors contribute to riskier-than-normal driving conditions, including:

  • Winter weather: rain, ice, and snow can all make driving more difficult.

  • Extra hours of darkness: with the sun setting early and rising late, we have fewer hours of good visibility in the winter.

  • Crowds: people are out running holiday errands like getting extra groceries and buying holiday gifts.

  • People who don’t normally drive may be out more: elderly people who typically don’t drive much may spend extra time on the road buying holiday gifts in-person rather than online this time of year.

  • Increased alcohol consumption during the holidays: some people still get behind the wheel after enjoying seasonal beverages and festivities.

With these factors, it’s no wonder why 53% of respondents to a recent Aceable survey say that they feel less safe on the roads during the holiday season. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates 860 American fatalities during the three day period around Christmas and the three day period around New Year’s Day alone. And the number of injuries from auto accidents ranks around 50,000 for the same period.  

Worse still, 2020 isn’t a normal holiday season. The outbreak of COVID-19 will likely change driver behavior this year. And not necessarily for the better. Let’s take a look at how COVID-19 is projected to impact holiday driving and how you can practice holiday driving safety amid COVID-19.

Drunk Driving May Be More Widespread During the 2020 Holiday Season 

Drunk driving crashes cause more than 10,000 deaths per year in the United States. And these deaths are clustered around holidays. 

Unlike Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, which both see an uptick in drunk driving crashes, the holiday season isn’t contained in a single day or holiday weekend. Depending on who you ask, “The Holiday Season” can start as early as Thanksgiving or even Halloween. In the final two months of each year, people are more likely to drink due to multiple holiday parties and gatherings. And sadly, the holidays can be a difficult time for many people, who are also more likely to drink regularly just to get through the holidays.    

Forty-three percent of Americans say that they drink more alcohol during the holidays than during other times of the year. And this is reflected in the car crash fatality data reported by the US Department of Transportation (DOT). 781 Americans were killed in drunk driving accidents in December of 2016. And, on average, around 300 people die in drunk driving accidents each year in the week between Christmas and New Year alone. 

Unfortunately for all of us, COVID-19 may result in more drunk driving fatalities in 2020 than in prior years. Not only are many people generally drinking more during the pandemic, but people are also less likely to rely on taxis and rideshare services this year because of fear of contagion. 31% of survey respondents say that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, their alcohol consumption has increased, and 75% say that this holiday season, they are avoiding using taxi and rideshare services.

In an interview with KKTV, Colonel Matthew Packard, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol, stated, “While overall traffic fatalities might be down, injury and fatal crashes caused by drug and alcohol use are up. We know that even during the pandemic, drunk and drugged driving haven’t stopped.”

While COVID-19 is currently far more deadly than drunk driving accidents, drunk driving is still scarier to many people. This may be because we can clearly envision a drunk driving accident, but most of us don’t know what a COVID death looks like. When our minds can create clear examples quickly, we’re more likely to give those clear examples more weight than less defined concepts. Psychologists call this the “availability heuristic.” 

Forty-eight percent say that this holiday season, they are more fearful of drunk drivers than they are fearful of COVID-19. The important thing to remember is that, unfortunately, both drunk driving and COVID-19 are real threats this holiday season. So it’s important to be vigilant on both fronts.  

More People May Be On the Road for the 2020 Holiday Season 

Further complicating holiday driving in 2020, the COVID pandemic may be putting more people on the road this holiday season. 

One big reason for the potential increase in holiday traffic is the lower demand for air travel due to the pandemic. Seventy-four percent of survey respondents say that this holiday season, they are avoiding traveling by plane and are traveling by vehicle instead. The CDC reports that “most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.” But there is some concern over the ability to social distance in the limited space of airports and airplanes, which is causing travelers to choose their vehicles over airplanes.

We’ve already mentioned that 75% of those surveyed report that they are avoiding using taxi and rideshare services this holiday season. This could put more vehicles on the streets if more people are insisting on driving themselves in their own vehicles rather than sharing vehicles as we would normally expect during the holidays.

But even with these increased traffic sources, it’s possible that holiday traffic will still be lower than normal due to people opting out of gatherings and staying home. 67% say that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their holiday plans this year are different from what they would be in a normal, non-pandemic year.

Regardless of how many vehicles end up on the roads this holiday season, with the added risk of driving during the holidays, it pays to be extra vigilant. Let’s look at a few safe driving tips you can use this holiday season. 

Safe Driving Tips for the Holidays You Should Use to Create a Safe Driving Plan

Practicing defensive driving is among the best ways to keep you and your passengers as safe as possible from vehicle collisions. Defensive driving helps you model your driving behaviors around the human-error factor of other drivers to better protect yourself and your passengers. If you haven’t completed a defensive driving course in the last few years, enroll today. Completion of this course could even save you money on your auto insurance premiums that you could put toward your holiday gift budget!

In addition to defensive driving, creating a safe driving plan for you and your family before you hit the road will not only reduce stress, but ensure that the other drivers in your family remain in the right state of mind on the road. Here are 10 more actionable ways you can drive more safely this holiday season:

  1. Don’t drink and drive. 

  2. Wear your seat belt.

  3. Don’t text while driving (even at a stoplight).

  4. Slow down (especially when driving in the dark or in unfavorable weather).

  5. Get plenty of rest before driving, especially before long trips.

  6. Schedule your trips during daylight hours when possible.

  7. Avoid areas crowded with holiday shoppers if possible.

  8. Make sure your vehicle is well-maintained.

  9. Check your tire pressure regularly for better handling on slippery roads.

  10. Minimize distractions by having your GPS instructions on before putting your vehicle in drive, having a co-pilot who can easily distribute snacks and drinks to passengers as needed, and having some kind of entertainment for young children. 

Key Takeaways

Driving during the holidays is inherently more dangerous than driving during other times of the year. The winter weather, extra hours of darkness, larger crowds, and increased alcohol consumption all contribute to more fatal car accidents during the holiday season.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 holiday season poses a few unique threats to drivers. With alcohol consumption already up because of the virus, and fewer people willing to take advantage of rideshare services due to the risk of contagion, we may see more drunk driving crashes this holiday season than in prior years. There may also be more people on longer journeys as more people are choosing vehicle travel over airplane travel for 2020 to limit the spread of the virus. 

Despite these difficult conditions, there are lots of ways to increase your safety while driving during the holidays. Minimizing distractions and impairments, avoiding crowded areas, and exercising extra vigilance through defensive driving can all help keep you safer on the road. 

Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season for you and yours. 

The survey for Aceable’s Holiday Driving Safety Amid COVID-19 Report was conducted online using Survey Monkey. The national sample of 1,046 adults spans across U.S. geographic regions and income levels and was weighted to reflect the gender distribution and the age distribution across the 18-44 and 45+ age brackets in U.S. census data.