November 23, 2005

Safe and Healthy Holiday Travel

By Sara B. Woo, MPH,
Safely on the Move

The celebrations of the holiday season (beginning with Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year’s Day) typically include more time on the road - shopping, traveling and attending holiday get-togethers. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of injury and death to children and adults. A large number of traffic crashes occur when alcohol consumption is combined with driving.

It is astonishing to think that every 31 minutes someone is killed in an alcohol-related crash. At holiday times, the number of crashes due to drunk drivers can increase by 10% or more. In 2003, 40% of all fatal traffic crashes involved alcohol, but during the 2003 Christmas holiday approximately 48% of the crashes involved alcohol, and during the New Year’s holiday an astonishing 61% of the crashes involved alcohol. Added together, a total of 732 people were killed during those two holidays alone.

Children are too frequently the victims in alcohol-related car crashes. Tragically, from 1997-2002, 1,588 (68%) of the 2,335 children killed in an alcohol-related crash were passengers in the car with a drunk driver at the wheel. In 2000 it was reported that nearly 2400 (67% of 3556) drinking drivers were old enough to be the child’s parent or caretaker.

In 2003, drivers 21 to 24 years old were the most likely to be intoxicated (BAC of 0.08 g/dl or greater) in fatal crashes. Thirty-two percent of drivers 21 to 24 years old involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated, followed by ages 25 to 34 (27 percent) and 35 to 44 (24 percent).

Drinking alcohol before driving is often coupled with other risk-taking behaviors. Drunk drivers are less likely to use a seat belt themselves or buckle up their child passengers. Not surprisingly, the likelihood of driving with appropriate safety restraints decreases with the increase in alcohol consumed.

Safe Driving Tips

- Adopt a zero-alcohol-tolerance policy, especially when transporting children.

- Always buckle-up and teach children to buckle-up.

- Secure your child in the appropriate car seat or safety belt every time they ride.

- Check the car seat instructions to be sure about the correct age and weight limits of the car seat.

- Be sure infants ride facing the back of the car until they are at least 1 year old.

- Keep children in a safety seat with a harness as long as possible (per the seat weight and height limits).

- Use a booster seat for children who have outgrown their safety seat, typically around age 4. Many children need to ride in a booster seat until they are age 8-11 years.

- Keep children in the back seat properly buckled up until they are at least 12 years old; recent research suggests until age 15.

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