It's the time of year when many of us are in a hurry - to the mall, to the grocery store, to gatherings of family and friends. Unfortunately, whether we're driving or walking to any of those destinations, we're often distracted, which puts everyone on the road at risk.
The National Safety Council estimates that as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes across the country in 2016. These are some of the most dramatic auto crash fatality statistics in 50 years. Distracted driving - and the ubiquitous use of smartphones behind the wheel - is widely believed to be one of the leading causes for the rise in vehicle crashes nationwide, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).
Americans know distracted driving is dangerous. In fact, in a new survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of PCI, distracted driving topped the list as the No. 1 perceived contributor (92 percent) to the increase in auto accidents across the country.
"Even though we're aware of the dangers, our smartphones are still monopolizing too much of our time on the road," said Bob Passmore, assistant vice president of personal lines policy at PCI. "It's all around us. Everywhere you look people are texting, talking, surfing the web, and scrolling through social media on their smartphones while driving or walking."
Keeping auto safety in mind - and avoiding distracted driving - can help reduce auto accidents during the holidays. "The hustle and bustle on the roads, on sidewalks, and in parking lots at this time of year create more risks for accidents," said Passmore. "Whether you're running errands locally or taking a holiday road trip, it's important to take a few extra seconds to send any last-minute messages or check apps, and then put your phone down and collect your thoughts before you start driving. If your device has a do not disturb while driving' function, use it. Eliminating distractions, focusing on the road, and staying alert to driving conditions and other cars and pedestrians truly can prevent accidents."
Simple modifications to driver behaviors can prevent auto accidents and save lives. PCI offers the following tips for safe driving during the holidays.
PCI's eight holiday driving tips:
1. Avoid distracted driving. Don't talk, text, or use apps while driving. Put the phone down and just drive. If your device has a "do not disturb while driving" function, use it. Try to limit other distractions, such as eating or fiddling with controls, and be aware that having more passengers in the car multiplies the opportunity for distraction. Secure pets in the back of the car.
2. Designate a driver. If you plan to drink at a holiday celebration, designate a sober driver or arrange for a taxi or ride service. Driving under the influence of marijuana also is extremely dangerous, as it impairs your judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time.
3. Wear your seatbelt. Whether you're traveling to see friends or family, shopping for gifts, or running a quick errand, buckle up and drive safely. Seat belts save lives and help prevent injuries. Also, make sure kids are in the proper car or booster seats.
4. Give yourself plenty of time. Plan ahead and allow extra travel time. With more people on the roads over the holidays, often driving in unfamiliar territory, the potential for a traffic crash increases. Plan routes in advance when traveling to new destinations and be patient.
5. Pay attention to your speed. Observe speed limits, and slow down when roads are slick or icy. Drive slowly through busy parking lots.
6. Beware of crash taxes. Although crash taxes have been banned or limited in several states, many cities, counties and fire districts will charge the at-fault driver for the emergency response costs of an auto accident. Fees can range from $100 to more than $2,000, and a typical insurance policy does not cover those costs.
7. Have a plan for roadside assistance. If you're involved in an accident, beware of unscrupulous towing companies. Some towing companies take advantage of drivers after an accident by charging excessive fees and making it difficult for people to retrieve their cars. Have the phone number for your insurer or a roadside assistance program ready.
8. Update your proof of insurance. Before hitting the road, replace any expired insurance identification cards so you can provide current proof of insurance during a traffic stop.
PCI promotes and protects the viability of a competitive private insurance market for the benefit of consumers and insurers. PCI is composed of nearly 1,000 member companies, representing the broadest cross section of insurers of any national trade association.