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Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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Holiday travel in Texas is rife with hazards

You better watch out: Santa Claus may not drive down Interstate 35, but thousands of Texans do.

There are more drivers on Texas roads than ever, with former residents of other regions flocking to the Lone Star State during the pandemic. In fact, the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area ranked first nationwide for population boom during the pandemic era, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.

Increased use and other seasonal considerations contribute to riskier roads for the holidays: The Texas Department of Transportation counted 48,641 traffic accidents throughout Texas between Dec. 1, 2021, through New Year’s Day 2022, resulting in 433 deaths and 1,695 serious injuries.

But you don’t need to let a sleigh accident bring you down — here are five common hazards you’ll encounter on Texas roads this holiday season, as well as some ways to avoid them.

Predictably, drunken driving is one of the leading causes of festivity-time crashes, responsible for a whopping 23% of the 433 fatalities that took place during the 2021 Texas holiday season.

Although the legal intoxication limit in Texas is a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, you can actually be charged with driving under the influence as soon as your alcohol or drug intake impairs your ability to operate a moving vehicle — and the penalties are increased if you do so with a child in the car (or boat, or plane).

We’re not keeping you from the spiked eggnog, just reminding you that alcohol and safe road conditions never mix well. If you do decide to partake in something stronger than hot chocolate, remember to check Dallas Area Rapid Transit schedules for holiday times and locations, or hitch a ride home with someone who’s sober. You can always call Uber or Lyft as well.

Cold weather, late nights and warm air in the car can be a great way to lull that baby to sleep in the backseat. Unfortunately, adults are just as likely to fall prey to the sleep-inducing conditions in the vehicle, potentially with disastrous results: Texas ranks third-highest out of 50 states for fatal crashes involving a drowsy driver, according to a study by ValuePenguin.

Here’s some good news: Accidents involving drowsy drivers have decreased by 22.6%, according to the same research. So plan ahead if you know you’ll be tired while traveling for the holidays: book a roadside hotel, stay the night at Grandma’s house or leave for home a little bit earlier to beat the bedtime brain fog.

Dallas is home to two of the nation’s five deadliest highways: I-35 and I-20, according to a 2019 study. Both major roads serve as arteries for Dallas transit, connecting the third-largest city in Texas with the rest of the country and beyond.

And with nearly half of the Texas population living near I-35, according to TxDOT data, holiday traffic can get extra complicated when factoring in delivery trucks and road travel to visit friends and family.

While you can’t do much about the number of fellow drivers on the road, you can strategically plan your travel times to avoid the busiest periods, such as leaving early in the morning before the rush begins. Just remember to load up on coffee and good sleep the night before, and as always, be on your very best defensive driving behavior.

If you’ve been here for longer than five minutes, you’ve heard the Texas adage: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” It’s going to be a long time before any of us forget the notorious “snowpocalypse” of February 2021, for example, or the Texas floods, tornadoes and blizzards that plague various parts of the state at different times of year. And of course, the legendary thunderstorms of North Texas can crop up out of anywhere.

We can’t always predict what weather patterns will look like this holiday season, but we do know that unpredictability is guaranteed. It’s always a good idea to be prepared, just in case, and the holidays are no exception.

So fill up your gas tank before you leave, keep a spare phone charger and battery pack in the car, and have your roadside assistance phone number and account information handy in the glove compartment. And if anything dangerous happens out of the blue — like a torrential downpour between one highway marker to the next — turn on your headlights, drive slowly and carefully, and take the next exit if you need to.

It’s no secret that the holidays can be a major source of stress for Americans nationwide; 31% of adults anticipate feeling more stressed this upcoming holiday season compared with 2021, according to a recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association.

Increased tension at the family reunion can easily contribute to road rage and distracted driving. And even if you aren’t upset, other drivers on the road may be more wound up than usual. So take a deep breath, chant “serenity now,” hand off the keys to another driver or do whatever else it takes to destress before hitting the road this year.

Katherine Fan is writer and editor with experience covering personal finance, health care, insurance, and travel points and miles for a number of media outlets. She splits her time among Austin, New York City and Taipei. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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