Dangerous driving and the holidays: Facts that will surprise you

Some of the reasons for spikes in traffic accidents are people navigating unfamiliar routes, adverse weather and increased alcohol consumption.

For many, navigating roads bursting with drivers trying to pick up last-minute gifts or get to a relative's house is an annoyance in December.

Data from around the country have revealed that besides being annoying, holiday driving is some of the most dangerous of the year.

Some of the reasons for spikes in traffic accidents are people navigating unfamiliar routes, adverse weather and increased alcohol consumption.

Although these statistics are sobering, the following facts can help you learn how to avoid dangerous road conditions and keep your family safe when you shop for gifts or travel to see relatives this holiday season.

Nationwide holiday crash data

Clogged roads, stressed holiday shoppers and icy weather all increase the chance that you will get into a car accident around the holidays.

"Over a 27-year period, the two days before Christmas and New Year's Day consistently saw a spike in vehicle occupant fatalities," according to studies of long-term aggregate traffic accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And it's not just drivers who are at risk, as the three deadliest days for pedestrians are Dec. 23, Jan. 1, and Oct. 31, the report concluded.

One of the most significant causes of the holiday spikes in accidents is the winter weather in many states.

“Adverse weather-related fatalities constituted about 16 percent of total (nationwide) fatalities,” said a study of eight years of fatal motor accident data. “On average, 65 percent of adverse weather-related fatalities happened between November and April, with rain/wet conditions more frequently reported than snow/icy conditions.”

With December and January averaging the most snow in many states, the weather plays a big role in holiday road danger. When planning your holiday travel, keep an eye on weather news so you can avoid storms or the northern areas of the state that are harder hit by precipitation.

Keeping your family safe with seat belts

Whether you're driving to the store to buy some eggnog or you're crossing the state to celebrate with relatives, buckling up is essential for safe driving.

When drivers and passengers in a car wear seat belts, they're far more likely to survive if they get into an accident.

The good news is that campaigns over the past decade to encourage drivers to wear their seat belts have succeeded in reducing fatalities. In fact, the NHTSA found a six percent drop in death rates across a 10-year period.

The bad news is that some drivers still don't buckle up, which drives up the number of fatalities over the year, especially during dangerous winter conditions and the holiday rush.

Every time you get into the car with your family, do a quick seat belt check, whether you're sitting in the driveway or hopping in and out while running errands.

Planning ahead for holiday parties

While enjoying a nice hot cider or mulled wine during the holidays can be a happy tradition, make a plan if your want to drink more than a few. Increased alcohol consumption is a reason car accidents increase around Christmas.

"About 40 percent of all fatalities during the Christmas and New Year holiday periods have occurred in crashes where at least one of the involved drivers was alcohol-impared," according to the NHTSA.

Before you go to a Christmas or Hanukkah party, make a plan to have only as many drinks as you can handle, or arrange for a designated driver.

You can also talk to your children and friends about keeping the roads safe by never driving under the influence.