The bad news for people planning to drive during the upcoming Labor Day weekend: it's expected to be the deadliest and most dangerous in years.
Specifically, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimates nearly 450 people will die due to auto accidents in those three-plus days. Should that prediction come true, this Labor Day weekend will be the worst—in terms of motor vehicle fatalities—since 2008.
The NSC also expects more than 50,000 people to be injured enough to need medical attention between September 2 and 5.
Both figures “are part of a larger, overall trend we started seeing in 2015,” says Ken Kolosh, NSC’s statistics manager. Although motor vehicle or traffic fatalities, in particular, dropped by about 10,000 per year between 2006 and 2014, they began increasing again last year.
As for 2016, it could end up the deadliest driving year since 2007. More than 19,000 people were killed on US roads from January to June. Also, 2.2 million drivers and passengers were seriously injured within the same period.
What’s behind this unfortunate turnaround? Kolosh points to “more commercial vehicles on the road, more miles being driven, and more teenagers behind the wheel. Lower gas prices might be a factor too. And we may not be driving quite as safely or slowly as we did during the recession to save on gas.”
The good news: there are a number of things you can do to ensure you return home from your road trip safe and sound. In fact, there are 15. Here they are.
Before You Go
Have your car serviced
Besides getting into an accident, the last thing you want to deal with during your holiday joyride is a breakdown. To keep that from happening, take your vehicle to a mechanic and have everything checked. Oh, and while you’re at it, have its oil checked—and changed, if needed.
See if there are any open safety recalls on your make and model
Earlier this year, research from Carfax revealed about 20 percent of US autos are a part of an open recall. That’s a big deal because it means there’s a one-in-five chance yours is among them. Also, if your vehicle’s recall is tied to something serious, you could find yourself in serious trouble while far away from home.
Add some safety features to your vehicle
There are all sorts of safety features you could add to your car to keep you and any passengers safe while you cross the country—or even just drive to the next state—this holiday weekend. A few examples, according to mycardoeswhat.org: adaptive headlights, brake assist, and obstacle detection.
Granted, Labor Day is just 48 or so hours away, so it’s probably too late for most people to do this. Still, if you’re able, installing one or more of these devices or technologies could pay off in more ways than one.
At least make sure there’s a first aid kit in your trunk
In a perfect world, your trunk would be stuffed with more than that. A blanket’s always a good idea, of course. Even better ones, though, are bottled water, non-perishable food items like protein bars, a flashlight, road flares, jumper cables, and the tools that’ll allow you to change a tire. At the very least, though, it should include a first aid kit.
Review your car insurance coverage
Do you only carry liability coverage on your vehicle? If so, now might be the time to add collision or comprehensive coverage. Or, if you already pay for some amount of those types of coverage, now might be the time to bump it up a bit. Collision car insurance coverage is especially important in situations such as this, as it helps you repair or replace a car damaged in an accident.
On a related note, you also may want to look into roadside assistance coverage. It can be a boon when you need a: battery jump-start, gas or oil delivery, locksmith, tire change, or tow.
Driving across state lines, or even across the border?
If so, pay attention. Crossing into another state is nothing to worry about, as most car insurance policies cover you no matter where in the US you take your auto. The same is true if your Labor Day driving takes you and your wheels into Canada. Head south into Mexico, though, and things get a little dicey. To learn why that is, read our article, “Does My Car Insurance Cover Me in Canada and Mexico?”
On the Road
This goes for the driver as well as for any passengers. Don’t take our word for it: the NSC suggests the same—thanks to the fact that, as Kolosh shares, seat belts are “one of the best ways to survive an otherwise deadly crash.” On the flip side, he adds, half of all occupant motor vehicle fatalities in a given year are unbelted.
If you want to take things a step or two further, follow Safercar.gov’s advice and put children 13 and younger in the back seat. And if you use car seats or booster seats, make sure they’re properly installed before starting your journey.
Stick to the speed limit
Of course you want to avoid getting into a car accident during the Labor Day weekend or at any other time of the year. It’s also important to do what you can to avoid getting a speeding ticket, though. Why? Because both accidents and tickets can cause your car insurance rates to skyrocket.
Don't drink and drive
If Labor Day 2016 is anything like this year’s Memorial Day, millions of Americans will hit the highway at one time or another. (In fact, a recent AAA survey found that 55 percent of them say they’re more likely to take a road trip this year due to lower gas prices.) That’s part of the reason this extended weekend is expected to be so dangerous and deadly. Another reason is a good number of travelers will have a few drinks and then drive.
Sadly, some of those drunk drivers will kill themselves or others. In fact, Kolosh shares that while 30 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities are associated with a drunk driver, that number jumps during this holiday weekend. According to data gathered over the last few years, he says, “around 38 percent of Labor Day motor vehicle fatalities are associated with drunk driving. Which makes the driving environment this time of year that much less safe.”
Don’t add to that statistic. Not only could your DUI injure or kill someone, but it could cause your auto insurance rates to go through the roof. And don’t forget: Illegal drugs, and even prescription and over-the-counter medications, can affect you as much as alcohol.
Keep your eyes and hands off your phone
That means no texting and no using apps. Holding it up to your ear to take a call also is a no-no. Let someone else in the car handle those tasks for you. Traveling alone? Pull over if you absolutely have to do something on your phone. All of the above pertains to in-vehicle technologies, smartwatches, and other wearables, by the way, so keep your eyes and hands off them while behind the wheel as well.
“It's really important when you get into a car to put away your communication devices and focus on the task of driving safely,” Kolosh says.
Avoid other risky driving behaviors
There are many other habits and behaviors besides speeding, DUI, and distracted driving that could get you and your passengers into trouble this weekend. Many will earn you a fine (or worse), and some will make your car insurance premiums increase. (If your auto rates do spike following the holiday, here’s what you can do to bring them back down again.)
Now’s not the time to let your teen take the wheel
It makes sense that you might want to let your teenage daughter or son drive a bit during your Labor Day travels. Think twice before you hand over the keys, though. According to the NSC, teens are three times as likely to crash as more experienced drivers.
Beware of price gouging at gas stations
Although gas has been pretty cheap for much of this year, AAA reports that pump prices are rising. Specifically, the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline increased for 14 straight days between August 16 and 29. To keep your travel expenses from spiraling out of control, look out for inaccurate gas pumps and other forms of price gouging.
After You Reach Your Destination
Don't leave valuables in your vehicle
Labor Day is prime time for thieves, especially in touristy areas. Thankfully, you should be covered if you have the right kinds and amounts of insurance. (The same is true if someone vandalizes your auto.) Still, filing a claim and dealing with its aftermath—which may include higher insurance rates—isn’t fun, so do what you can to deter burglars from targeting your car. That means not leaving any items in plain sight and keeping your doors locked.
Here’s what you need to do if your car is stolen
US vehicle theft may have dropped dramatically in the last decade or two, but crooks still swipe almost 700,000 autos each year. Unfortunately, thieves find some makes and models more appealing than others. So, if you drive an old Honda Accord or a new Nissan Altima, be especially mindful of how and where you park it. What should you do if someone steals your vehicle despite your efforts to keep it safe? Make calling the police, filing a report, and contacting your insurance provider your first steps.
Keep all of the above in mind while on the road this weekend and you’ll be well on your way to a safe, secure, and fun holiday.
Also, don’t obsess over the doom and gloom discussed earlier. Although Kolosh points out that everyone has a one-in-113 chance of dying in a motor vehicle crash, he also says that “you really do have the ability to change those odds. You can beat those odds by doing some relatively simple things.”