The holiday season is a grand time for family get-togethers and holiday reunions, a time for holiday cheer and decorative sprucing of the house and farm. Millions of Americans will be traveling for the holidays and many more entertaining family and friends in grand tradition.

But nothing spoils a good time like tragic news, and unfortunately the holidays are a time when accidents have a way of slipping up when we least expect it. So warns the American Automobile Association (AAA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), and other safety groups who warn that the holidays traditionally see an abnormally high number of accidents of every kind.

Leading the risk for mishap are vehicular accidents, specifically driver distractions. According to NHTSA’s distraction.org web site, last year 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, and an estimated additional 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

Leading the list of likely distracted drivers are youth age 20 and under. A little over 11percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. Worse yet, 40 percent of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.

But it is not only our youth who are risk. During the holidays especially, becoming distracted is easy for all ages with elevated traffic and crowded roadways, bright holiday lights and displays, and a spike in the number of drivers who consume alcohol at holiday parties.

NHTSA warns that all distractions endanger drivers, passengers, and bystander’s safety. These types of distractions include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or Smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

But, because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.

Traffic deaths overall have fallen dramatically since 2005, but estimates for 2012 suggest that the trend may be ending. Road fatalities dropped 26 percent from 2005 to 2011 but are up 8 percent over the first seven months of this year, based on estimates from the National Safety Council. NSC data for each of the first seven months show a large rise in road deaths, as compared with the number of fatalities during the same period last year. The increases in the individual months range from 5percent to14 percent, which is consistent with an estimated first-quarter increase of 13.5 percent by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But NCS officials are warning it is not only traffic accidents that pose a risk during the holidays. The number of deaths from home fires is elevated during the holiday season as are the number of other types of accidents around the home and farm. Electrocution, falling off of ladders or roof tops, unauthorized or unsupervised use of farm equipment by children, and exposure to the elements, such as ice on stairs, are also leading safety risks.

On the farm or ranch, other types of accidents are possible, from handling farm animals to children and hikers becoming lost in an unfamiliar countryside can also pose a safety risk.

The holidays are traditionally a time of good will and family fun, but being aware of potential safety hazards should be high on the list for every family this season to avoid unexpected tragedy. It only takes a little time to plan a safe journey or outing, but less time to fall victim to an unexpected incident. This holiday season, make safety a priority.