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The holiday season, a time of celebration often accompanied by the excitement of travel, is almost here. It's crucial to remember that traveling during this season brings its own set of challenges. From increased traffic and winter weather concerns to the importance of vehicle inspections and addressing fatigue during long journeys, Robert McCool, program coordinator for the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, provides some valuable insights and precautions to ensure a secure and enjoyable travel experience.

Be Prepared Before Hitting the Road

Embarking on a safe car journey during the holidays, especially in winter conditions, begins with conducting a thorough pre-trip vehicle inspection. “Drivers should ensure that their vehicle is in good condition and is properly winterized, with tires appropriate for winter driving,” shared McCool. Whether conducted personally or by a mechanic, an inspection should cover key components like windshield washer fluid and coolant levels. Tire maintenance—checking tread depth and air pressure and switching to snow tires if necessary—adds an extra layer of safety.

Being prepared for unforeseen circumstances is important as well: Equip your vehicle with emergency essentials such as warm blankets, a flashlight, a portable radio, spare batteries, and extra drinking water, all critical for survival, particularly during winter travels.

Before traveling in an unfamiliar area, take a few moments to study a map. While GPS navigation systems and phone apps are convenient, they may not always provide accurate guidance and could lead drivers into unsafe situations. Before hitting the road, check your planned route online for potential delays, such as construction zones.

Weathering Holiday Travel

Inclement weather during the holiday season presents challenges for drivers. Reduced visibility due to precipitation and fog may force drivers to decrease their speed to avoid collisions. Rain, snow, and ice make road surfaces slippery, increasing the stopping distance required for vehicles and lessening their ability to make quick turns. “The three primary control inputs for vehicles are acceleration, braking, and steering. It is important when driving on a slippery surface to reduce speed and to keep all control inputs slow and smooth, avoiding hard braking or swerving,” advised McCool.

Lastly, since driving safely in bad weather means driving more slowly than usual, it's crucial for drivers to give themselves extra time for every trip. Also keep in mind that many fellow travelers might be unfamiliar with local routes, so travel with patience and caution.

Fighting Fatigue

Fatigue also can be an issue for drivers. Driving while fatigued poses risks equivalent to driving under the influence, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Physical fatigue and feeling sleepy are different, but both decrease alertness and increase reaction time. Identifying signs of fatigue is crucial, and taking breaks to prioritize rest is important for maintaining optimal alertness. Get sufficient rest before embarking on long trips; while a temporary alertness boost can be achieved with caffeine, it should not replace proper rest before or during travel. Stay hydrated with water and incorporate breaks during extended journeys are key practices. Engaging in activities like walking and socializing during driving breaks can help to sustain alertness, ensuring a safer and more enjoyable travel experience.

Responsible Drinking Means No Driving

Alcohol is frequently involved during festive celebrations. With the celebrating comes the responsibility to drink in a manner that ensures safety for everyone. Whether by limiting alcohol intake to avoid impairment or arranging for a designated driver, taxi, or rideshare for the journey home, individuals who choose to consume alcohol play a pivotal role in maintaining a safe environment. “While many people distinguish between being ‘buzzed’ or ‘a little tipsy’ and being ‘drunk’ in a social context, it is essential for people to realize that any degree of alcohol impairment at all is sufficient to make a person an unsafe driver—and enough for someone to be charged with DUI,” said McCool.

This responsibility extends not only to guests but also to hosts. Hosts must refrain from over-serving alcohol and set clear expectations that any guest showing even minor signs of alcohol impairment will be offered a ride home by a sober driver.

Community Involvement

Beyond individual responsibility, communities can reduce impaired driving by creating and communicating a clear message that impaired driving is not acceptable. Supporting law enforcement’s traffic safety efforts and implementing programs that provide free rides home during holiday periods can make it easier for individuals who have consumed alcohol or other substances to avoid driving.

Navigating the holiday season safely involves preparation and responsible choices. From thorough vehicle inspections and precautions for inclement weather to addressing driver fatigue and promoting responsible alcohol consumption, these measures contribute to a safer and more enjoyable festive experience for all. Keep these tips in mind for safe travels this holiday season.

KIPRC is a unique partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health. KIPRC serves as both an academic injury prevention research center and a bona fide agent of DPH for statewide injury prevention and control.