- - Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year on our nation’s highways. And interestingly, the vast majority, 91 percent, of long-distance trips are made with a personal vehicle, as compared to 5 percent to 6 percent by air, and 2 percent to 3 percent by bus, train or ship.

As millions will be getting into their vehicles and behind the steering wheel, a number of organizations are embarking in high visibility campaigns to help Americans get to their holiday location safely. Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injury and death in our nation. In fact, in 2013 there were an estimated 2.31 million Americans injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes and 33,782 who died. Safe driving is paramount to reaching our destinations safely and creating the wonderful memories this holiday season, and, too, all year round.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: Holiday Driving Safety

Buckling up: Experts agree that this is one of the single most effective measures to protect ourselves and our passengers in a crash. In fact, it is estimated that seat belts save over 13,000 lives in motor vehicle accidents every single year!

However, if the seat belt is not properly fastened, it is not effective. Make sure to place the lap belt across the hips and below the stomach. And ensure that the shoulder belt is secured across the shoulder bone, down the middle of the chest, and away from the neck. Never place the shoulder belt behind the back or under the arm. Similarly, pregnant women can place the lap belt below their belly, and the shoulder belt across their chest (between the breasts).

Children: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. As parents, grandparents, and adults, there are a number of precautions we can take to decrease this tragic occurrence.

Experts recommend that children should remain in the backseat at least until they are 12 years of age. Additionally, correctly used child car seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent. However, research shows that a shocking 73 percent of car seats are not used or installed correctly! Car seats should be based on the child’s age and size. Make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions as well as vehicle owner’s manual to ensure that the car seat is properly installed and that the belts are appropriately positioned over the child’s body.

It is recommended that children should be kept in their car seat for as long as possible, meaning based on the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements. And as children get older, booster seats should be used. Research shows that they reduce the risk for serious injury by 45 percent for children 4 to 8 years of age, compared to seat belts alone.

Caution when changing lanes: It is important to keep lane changes to a minimum. Experts agree that cutting in front of other drivers, changing lanes too fast or not using our signals may cause an accident. And always remember to check the rearview and side mirrors, as well as do an over-the-shoulder visual check to ensure that there are no vehicles in the blind spot. Remember, studies have shown that lane changing in heavy traffic seldom saves time, but can cause accidents.

Distracted driving: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this term describes “any time a driver takes their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and mind off the primary task — driving safely.” Despite the warnings, it is estimated that motorists are engaging in secondary behavior more than half of their time spent driving!

Common vehicle activities that can result in distractions include texting, using a cell phone or hands-free device, eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video and adjusting a radio or MP3 player. In fact, distracted driving is responsible for more than a million car crashes and 16 percent of fatal accidents every year. As drivers, we are carrying precious cargo. Make sure to pull over to text, eat, groom, or use a map or navigation system.

Driving while drowsy (sleepy, asleep, or fatigued): The National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll found that 60 percent of adult drivers (168 million people) have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy. Even more shocking is that 37 percent (103 million) stated they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel!

While there is no test to confirm that you are drowsy, some signs include: difficulty focusing; frequent blinking; daydreaming; yawning; drifting from your lane; or feeling restless or irritable.

To prevent driving while drowsy, drivers should ensure that they get a good night of sleep; schedule regular stops; avoid medications that can sedate you; or drive with an adult companion. If you experience drowsiness, pull over into a safe location and take a 15-20 minute nap and consider drinking a cup or two of coffee or other caffeinated beverage.

Drunk driving: Every year there are more than 10,000 preventable, unnecessary, tragic deaths due to drunk driving. And during the holiday season the number increases. Approximately 1,200 people die during the holiday season; this equates to nearly 45 people each day. And another 25,000 people will suffer from injuries due to drunk driving.

Unfortunately, many drivers incorrectly believe that they can calculate their own blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you are going to have a drink, designate a driver. Period.

Add to these to also be sure that your vehicle is properly serviced for road conditions (anticipate weather conditions) during the holidays. Double check that you have your trip mapped out in advance and if possible schedule travel times before or after heaviest traffic times. If you encounter a driver that is tailgating, honking, flashing their headlights, talking on their cell phones, you can avoid a potentially dangerous situation by backing off. Department of motor vehicles authorities remind us: You can’t control another driver’s behavior, but you can control your own.

It is a very special time to go “over the river and through the woods.” Whether going shopping or to a loved one’s home, with prep and wise road navigating you can leave the road-trip stress at home and enjoy your holiday travels with family and friends.

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