Holiday Season Brings Increase in Crashes, Experts Warn Pandemic Could Make This Year Worse
If your holiday plans include traveling by car this year, now is the time to make sure you have everything you need to ensure the safest trip possible. With people everywhere hitting the roads, Christmastime tends to be one of the most dangerous for vehicle crashes. At Cook Children’s, trauma experts say we typically see a 40% increase in the number of children treated for injuries related to accidents during this time period.
“We usually see a cluster of patients from crashes in the three to four days before and after Christmas,” said Sharon Evans, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s. “People are stressed, and it’s the height of travel season. We don’t know what it will be like this year due to the pandemic, but we know this time of year is especially dangerous.”
Since 2015, an average of 12 car wreck victims were admitted to Cook Children’s between the dates of Dec. 20-30. Out of those, three were typically not restrained with a seat belt or car seat.
“If a child is properly restrained in a car seat, we may see some cuts and bruises, but they usually ok,” said Evans. “The ones who are much more seriously injured tend to be children in seat belts who are too small and should be using a booster seat.”
In Texas, children are required to remain in a car seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall or 8 years old. Experts like Evans say that is the bare minimum, and it’s more important to pay attention to a child’s size than their age since seat belts are made for adults and don’t fit small bodies properly.
“When children are using a seatbelt prematurely, the belt doesn’t fit across the center of their shoulders like it should and kids will tend to put it behind their back or under their arm,” she explained. “Now, their entire upper body is unrestrained. In a crash, this means the child folds over the seatbelt.”
She says these children can suffer cervical spine injuries, as well as serious internal injuries to the spleen, liver and intestines. This is why it’s so important for children to remain in a car seat or booster seat until they fit into a seat belt. Also, any child under 13 years old should ride in the backseat.
“There are no do-overs,” said Evans. “A lot of times we see families who say their child was really tired or fussy and didn’t want to get into the car seat or they wanted to lay down. We understand how that can happen, but families need to know that kind of normal decision can affect your life forever.”
Most Dangerous State
A recent report released by Go Insurance’s partner nonprofit, Go Safe Labs, shows Texas is the least safe state in the country for children in vehicles. Between 2015-2018, Go Safe Labs found that 1,172 children were injured or killed in traffic accidents in the state, with 55% in rural areas and 45% in urban areas.
Further data from the Texas Department of Transportation shows it’s been more than 20 years since the state has seen a day without a death on its roads. November 7, 2000, marked the last time that happened. Since then, more than 70,000 people have lost their lives on Texas roads, with an average of 10 people dying every day.
“You hear about wrecks every time you turn on the news and I think we’ve almost become desensitized to them,” said Evans. “You have to remember, it could be you and it could be serious.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this holiday season could see more deaths than usual.
According to a study by the Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), the number of Texas traffic crashes in April dropped by nearly 50% compared to 2017-2019 averages. While there were fewer crashes, researchers say there was a 50% increase in traffic fatalities. They believe the data is evidence that the risk of death and injury is greater when roads are more clear, likely because people tend to drive faster with fewer cars on the road.
“There’s no way to predict what will happen this holiday season, if there will be more people on the road or less,” said Evans. “But one thing I know for sure is accidents don’t take a day off.”
What Can Parents Do?
If you are traveling with children, make sure they are restrained properly. According to Safe Kids North Texas, four out of five car seats are installed incorrectly. For this reason, they offer free car seat checks to ensure your child’s safety. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, car seat checks are being offered virtually only at this time. You can easily sign up for a check online by clicking here.