AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, predicted earlier this month that 48.3 million Americans will travel by car over the Thanksgiving holiday, despite “gas costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year.” While some websites are predicting less traffic on the roads because of higher gas prices, AAA expects road travel over the Thanksgiving holiday to increase by nearly 10% over last year. “Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst, told AAA. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”
Whether your Thanksgiving travel will take you on roads that go over some rivers and through the woods, or into busy cities or sleepy suburbs, we urge you to be careful. And to slow down. Please.
When there are more cars on the road, the dangers increase not just for people in vehicles, but for those getting out of vehicles and those walking to their destinations. We’re glad that the weather forecast, so far, looks good — dry and mostly clear — because fallen leaves, combined with precipitation, can make roads slick.
We know from experience that even a 5-mile car ride on a random Wednesday can result in a crash. But we can diminish our chances of getting into an accident by refraining from texting or making (or receiving) phone calls while driving. By slowing down. By driving only when sober. And by watching out for pedestrians.
According to The Atlantic, data from “the Governors Highway Safety Association suggest that American drivers struck and killed more than 6,700 pedestrians last year, a number unmatched in this century.” The rate at which drivers kill pedestrians surged by 21% from 2019 to 2020, “the largest annual increase on record.”
That magazine quoted Rohit Aggarwala, a fellow at the Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech and the former director of long-term planning and sustainability for New York City, who observed, “Our pickup trucks and SUVs are gigantic compared to the sizes they used to be.”
That has given drivers less visibility and an elevated sense of security, which makes them more aggressive on the road, Aggarwala told The Atlantic.
He pointed out that car manufacturers in Europe are required to test cars for pedestrian impact; hoods are designed to slope downward so that drivers can see anyone who wanders into the path of their vehicles. “The U.S. hasn’t considered any of this,” Aggarwala said. “We have a tradition of focusing on vehicle safety as only being about the occupant.”
Until this changes, we, as drivers, need to focus intently on the safety of pedestrians.
Adult pedestrians are responsible for their own safety, too, of course. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises pedestrians to observe the following suggestions:
— Follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals.
— Walk on sidewalks when possible and when sidewalks aren’t available, walk facing traffic.
— Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections, where drivers expect pedestrians.
— Stay alert, which means not scrolling through your texts or social media as you walk.
— Walk in well-lit areas and wear reflective materials or carry a flashlight at night. (We find that people walking their dogs at dusk, or in the dark, don’t always remember how important this is.)
— Watch for cars entering or exiting driveways or backing up in parking lots.
“Never assume a driver sees you,” that federal agency advises. “Make eye contact with drivers as they approach to make sure you are seen.”
Cyclists, likewise, need to be careful on the roads. And drivers of vehicles must respect bike lanes. There needs to be a mutual understanding that the roads are for sharing — and that safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Be aware, too, of the Amish buggies that might be on the road this week.
Understanding who’s most at risk may help us to curb the dangers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half (47%) of crashes that resulted in a pedestrian death involved alcohol for the driver and/or the pedestrian. Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season, and adult beverages are on many holiday menus. And with more people vaccinated against COVID-19, folks once again may be bar-hopping Thanksgiving eve, a night for socializing that’s so entrenched in American culture that it has been dubbed “Drinksgiving.”
This seems obvious, but some of us still need to be reminded: Designate a driver or use a ride-sharing service if you’re going to be indulging away from home (remember to mask up if you use a taxi, Uber or Lyft).
The CDC says that people ages 65 and older accounted for 20% of all pedestrian deaths and an estimated 10% of all pedestrian injuries in 2017. One in every five children under the age of 15 killed in traffic crashes in 2017 were pedestrians.
Young children tend to dash into the road after errant balls; make sure little ones are supervised when they’re playing in a front yard or anywhere near vehicles.
A serious accident is agonizing not just for those who are injured, but for their loved ones — and for the driver responsible. It will ruin not only this Thanksgiving, but holidays for years to come. Even if your aunt frowns on tardiness, even if you’re charged with bringing the appetizers and you’re running late, nothing is worth speeding to your destination.
Many of us will be sharing holiday meals with family members for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started; vaccines and boosters have made this safer than last year. (Some of us will be waiting until the youngest children in our families are vaccinated.)
Whatever your plans, we wish you a joyful — and safe — Thanksgiving week.