Published on 11/11/10

Travel safely during the holidays

By Sarah Lewis

Holidays call for family gatherings and, to get there, plenty of travel. With a major increase in traffic on the roads, make sure you and your families are safe.

“Thanksgiving is the deadliest holiday out of the year in the U.S.,” said Andrew Turnage, public information coordinator for the University of Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute. “On a normal day there are about 100 fatalities due to traffic accidents, but on Thanksgiving there are over 500 fatalities nationwide.”

On Thursday and Friday during Thanksgiving week, there are about 50 percent more people on the road. Added to that is a jump in alcohol consumption. Both factors increase the chances for things to go wrong.

Wear your seatbelt

Turnage’s No. 1 travel tip: Wear your seatbelt. Seatbelt use saves lives for drivers and passengers. If a crash occurs, car occupants are three times more likely to survive if they’re wearing their seatbelts.

It’s also extremely important to make sure children are traveling safely, too. Kids tend to do what their parents or grandparents do 93 percent of the time, he said. If they see a driver not wearing a seatbelt or wearing it behind the shoulder, they’re more likely to do the same.

“Make sure to not only share” the reasons for wearing a seatbelt, “but also demonstrate the importance of safety by wearing a seatbelt,” Turnage said.

Use a child safety seat or booster seat if needed. Seats should be checked to make sure they are installed correctly. Safety seats should be used until the child reaches the height where they are no longer needed.

Georgia law requires child safety seat use until age six. However, six-year-olds may not be tall enough to safely use car seatbelts, which are designed for people taller than 4 feet 9 inches.

Before traveling, check your car’s tires, oil, brakes, critical fluids, headlights, taillights and turn signals. Make sure all loose objects are placed in the trunk or secured, as they can become deadly projectiles in an accident.

Sleepy driving

During the trip, be aware of how tired you are. Driver fatigue should always be taken into consideration on long, late night or early morning trips.

“Drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving,” Turnage said. “If you feel that you are getting tired, pull over and get the rest needed. It’s more important that you get rest and drive safely rather than fighting sleep and fatigue trying to arrive on time.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates there are 100,000 drowsy driving accidents reported every year. People are more likely to feel fatigued and the risk of drowsy driving accidents increases in the early afternoon between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and nighttime between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The seasonal time change will also make a difference when driving because it gets darker earlier. To keep drivers more alert and safe, Georgia law requires headlights be used from dusk until dawn and any time it is raining.

Driver distraction

Along the trip keep children and passengers entertained so they don’t distract the driver. Turnage suggests having books, crosswords, movies and video games on hand.

Another driver distraction is the cell phone. Georgia law bans texting for all drivers as well as cell phone use for teen drivers. “Keep your eyes on the road and don’t drive distracted,” Turnage said.

Make sure you and your family are prepared for safe travels this holiday season, and every day.

“Don’t let safe travel take a backseat,” Turnage said. “Traffic accidents are still the number one killer in our country. Buckling up and being prepared can keep your holidays a joyous time for everyone.”

For more information about traffic safety, visit

Sarah Lewis is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.