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2020 Holiday Travel Auto Accidents

Holiday travel doesn’t always involve a red sleigh pulled by a team of magical reindeer – it can also include traditional means of travel to meet distant relatives and create memories. When traveling or using the roads in any capacity, holidays aren’t immune from accidents and tragedy. At Harsh Law, we hope the following information about holiday travel can provide insight into enjoying a safer season.

Harsh Law Holiday Auto Accidents Figures

Many people choose to travel by car during the holidays, which has the highest fatality rate of any major form of transportation based on fatalities per passenger mile. According to the National Safety Council, in 2017, 329 people died on New Year’s Day, 463 on Thanksgiving Day and 299 on Christmas Day – with one-third of these fatalities involving alcohol. 

In 2020 and 2021, an increase in auto travel is expected as travelers will shy away from the crowded airports and dense mass-transit – resulting in more cars and drivers on the roads.

If you are needing to travel by vehicle during the upcoming holidays, there are specific precautions recommended by the Department of Transportation:

  • Prepare your car for winter and keep an emergency preparedness kit with you
  • Get a good night’s sleep before departing and avoid drowsy driving
  • Leave early, planning ahead for heavy traffic
  • Make sure every person in the vehicle is properly buckled up no matter how long or short the distance traveled
  • Put that cell phone away; many distractions occur while driving, but cell phones are the main culprit
  • Practice defensive driving
  • Designate a sober driver to ensure guests make it home safely after a holiday party; alcohol or over-the-counter prescription and illegal drugs can cause impairment

Before You Start Out

  • Clean your car’s external camera lenses and side view mirrors so you’ll be able to see what’s around you
  • Remove dirt, ice and snow from sensors to allow the assistive-driving features like automatic emergency braking to work
  • In frigid weather, you may want to warm up the car before you drive it
  • To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never leave a vehicle running in your garage – even with the garage door up
  • If the forecast looks iffy, wait out the storm if possible; if you must travel, share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave

Safe Driving Practices for Colder Months

  • Avoid using cruise control in wintry conditions
  • Steer in the direction of a skid, so when your wheels regain traction, you don’t have to overcorrect to stay in your lane
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly
  • Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds
  • If possible, don’t stop when going uphill

Holiday Traffic Fatality Estimate

Most Americans look forward to a long holiday weekend as a chance to take off work and enjoy time with friends and family. We associate these holidays with warm feelings of tradition – from summertime cookouts to reconnecting with loved ones we don’t see often enough.

Unfortunately, these holiday periods are also associated with an uptick in car crashes resulting in serious injury and death.

Many Americans embark on trips during the holidays, and the car – which has the highest fatality rate per passenger mile of any major form of transportation – is one of the most popular modes of travel. Because the holidays often involve celebrations with alcohol, fatal motor-vehicle crashes attributed to impaired driving also increase.

Prior to each major holiday weekend: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, the National Safety Council (NSC) releases a fatality and injury estimate. NSC examines the latest estimates for each holiday in detail in this section.

These estimates represent deaths and injuries that don’t have to occur. Each one is preventable. All drivers can help make our roads safer, especially during the holidays, by practicing defensive driving, buckling up, and designating a sober driver or arranging for alternate transportation. Drivers also should get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, drive attentively, and avoid distractions.

To better understand the estimates and how they are calculated, it is helpful to know how NSC defines each holiday period. Here are the holiday periods for the remainder of 2020 and for 2021, followed by a table establishing holiday traffic fatality counting periods and the observed days for each holiday.

2020/2021 Holiday Periods – According to NSC Injury Facts

Christmas Day (2020)

Begins: 6 p.m., Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Sunday, December 27, 2020

New Year’s Day (2021)

Begins: 6 p.m., Thursday, December 31, 2020

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Sunday, January 3, 2021

Memorial Day (2021)

Begins: 6 p.m., Friday, May 28

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Monday, May 31

Independence Day (2021)

Begins: 6 p.m., Friday, July 2

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Monday, July 5

Labor Day (2021)

Begins: 6 p.m., Friday, September 3, 2021

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Monday, September 6, 2021

Thanksgiving Day (2021)

Begins: 6 p.m., Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Sunday, November 28

Christmas Day (2021)

Begins: 6 p.m., Thursday, December 23, 2021

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Sunday, December 26, 2021

New Year’s Day (2022)

Begins: 6 p.m., Thursday, December 30, 2021

Ends: 11:59 p.m., Sunday, January 2, 2022

What happens if you are stranded while in your car due to an accident?

Frostbite and hypothermia are real concerns in areas with colder weather. If you are involved in an accident and unable to get immediate assistance, here are tips to keep in mind:


Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Hypothermia is most associated with exposure to extreme cold, but it can also occur at higher temperatures if a person becomes chilled from being soaked with rain or submerged in water.

Severe shivering, one of the first signs of hypothermia, is beneficial in keeping the body warm. But as hypothermia progresses, shivering gives way to drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, shallow breathing, irregular heartbeat, slurred speech, loss of coordination and, eventually, unconsciousness and death.

Paradoxical undressing is an extremely rare symptom of hypothermia. The victim undresses instead of bundling up. Researchers believe that in the final throes of hypothermia, victims may feel like they are overheating due to a rush of warm blood to the extremities.

If you encounter someone suffering from hypothermia:

  • Check responsiveness and breathing, and call 911; except in mild cases, the victim needs immediate medical care
  • Provide CPR if unresponsive and not breathing normally
  • Quickly move the victim out of the cold
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Warm the victim with blankets or warm clothing
  • Only if the victim is far from medical care, use active rewarming by putting the victim near a heat source and putting warm (but not hot) water in containers against the skin
  • Do not rub or massage the victim’s skin
  • Be very gentle when handling the victim
  • Give warm (not hot) drinks to an alert victim who can easily swallow, but do not give alcohol or caffeine

These steps are not a substitute for proper medical care. Be sure to seek medical attention for frostbite and hypothermia as soon as possible.


While most people believe a layer of clothing can prevent frostbite, even skin that is protected can be affected. It’s the most common injury resulting from exposure to severe cold, and it usually occurs on fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. If caught early, it is possible to prevent permanent damage. If not, frostbite can cause tissue death and lead to amputation.

Superficial frostbite affects the skin surface while the underlying tissue remains soft. The skin appears white, waxy or grayish-yellow and is cold and numb.

If the condition progresses to deep frostbite, all layers of the skin are affected, and the outcome likely will be more serious. The skin will become completely numb, blisters may form and eventually the skin tissue dies and turns black.

If you suspect frostbite:

  • Move the victim out of the cold and into a warm place
  • Remove wet clothing and constricting items
  • Protect between fingers and toes with dry gauze
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible
  • Warm the frostbitten area in lukewarm water (99 to 104 degrees) for 20 to 30 minutes only if medical care will be delayed and if there is no danger of the skin refreezing
  • Do not use chemical warmers directly on frostbitten tissue
  • Protect and elevate the frostbitten area

In short, if you are involved in an auto accident where you are unable to contact support via phone or passing vehicles, it is important to stay safe by adding layers of clothing, keep warm traveling during daylight hours and to increase visibility.

Large Meals and Holiday Fatigue

It isn’t just alcohol which impairs drivers during the holiday season, that calorie dense food can also pack a wallop. Driving drowsy is driving impaired – drivers report operating a vehicle while drowsy with 40% (per NSC) admitting to driving while sleeping to ‘simply get home’.

This startling figure shows how prevalent drowsy driving is. 

What drivers may not realize is how much drowsy driving puts themselves – and others – at risk. In fact, an estimated 5,000 people died in 2015 in crashes involving drowsy driving, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report (

Too Tired to Drive?

The following are signs and symptoms of drowsy driving, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Drifting out of your lane ONCE
  • Frequent yawning or difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • “Nodding off” or having trouble keeping your head up
  • Inability to remember driving the last few miles
  • Missing road signs or turns
  • Difficulty maintaining your speed

At this point, it is imperative for the driver to pull over and consider alternatives to dangerously and recklessly operating a vehicle. Beyond the human toll is the economic one. NHTSA estimates fatigue-related crashes resulting in injury or death cost society $109 billion annually, not including property damage.

Additionally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every year about 100,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving ( These crashes result in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries. The real number may be much higher, however, as it is difficult to determine whether a driver was drowsy at the time of a crash.

Harsh Law is Here to Help

If you or a loved one was involved in a holiday auto accident either as a passenger or as someone struck by a distracted or reckless driver, Harshbarger Law is here to help you seek the recovery you deserve. Our professionals are able to provide insight and compassion to handle your personal situation. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.