ITASCA, Illinois — The National Safety Council estimates that almost 800 Americans will lose their lives in vehicle crashes during the 2014 holiday season.
According to the NSC, there will be 366 traffic deaths over the Christmas holiday, which begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 24 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, December 28.
And the New Year's Day holiday period — 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31 through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 4 — will account for another 421 road fatalities.
In addition to the loss of life, the NSC estimates 39,200 injuries requiring medical attention from vehicle crashes over the Christmas holiday and another 45,000 such injuries during the New Year's holiday period.
The total of 787 fatalities being predicted for the 2014 holiday season compares to an average of 663.2 for the most recent prior five holiday periods for which actual statistics are available. The large prediction for this year, says the NSC, is due in part to the days of the week on which the two holidays fall.
Said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NSC president and CEO, in a statement: "Sadly, we could be facing two especially deadly holiday periods, since each will include a long four-day weekend. Families should take extra precaution on our highways to avoid unnecessary tragedies."
Common-sense suggestions from the NSC include buckling seatbelts every time (the organization estimates this alone could save 288 lives over the holidays), refraining from using electronic devices behind the wheel, securing children properly in the vehicle, driving defensively, not driving when tired and, of course, never operating a vehicle when impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Available free for android devices on Google Play, SaferRide has three buttons on its home screen that allow impaired users to choose from a list of nearby taxi services, automatically call the pre-programmed number of a sober friend for a ride and identify their location by displaying a map of the area.
The two agencies have also just kicked off their annual "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" holiday crackdown on drunk driving, intended to raise awareness and get impaired drivers off the road. From December 15 through January 1, more than 10,000 participating police departments and law enforcement agencies will be placing special emphasis on identifying and stopping impaired drivers.
"We're making progress in the fight against drunk driving by working with law enforcement and our safety partners, and by arming people with useful tools, such as our new SaferRide app," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman in a statement. "This holiday season, don't make the selfish and deadly choice to drink and drive."
Edmunds says: The NSC predictions should provide a wake-up call for those who plan to drive over the holidays.