The holidays can make for perilous driving.

NSC Issues Christmas, New Year's Driving Fatality Estimates

Year-end holidays are a potential threat to the nation ending the year with a record low number of motor-vehicle fatalities. As travel increases at the holidays, so too does the incidence of high risk behaviors, like drunk driving.

The National Safety Council estimates there will be 432 motor-vehicle fatalities during the Christmas holiday period that began yesterday at 6 p.m. and extends until midnight, Dec. 28. For the New Year's holiday period, from 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 until midnight on Jan. 4, the NSC estimates 445 motor-vehicle fatalities.

Estimates coincide with a 2008 traffic fatality rate that, through October, has the United States on track to achieve its lowest annual rate of traffic deaths ever recorded and the first time the number of crash-related deaths has dipped below 40,000 since 1961, according to National Safety Council data. Factors that help keep people safer on the roads include improved safety features in vehicles and greater visibility and enforcement of important traffic safety laws, including those related to seat belts, child passengers, impaired driving and teen driving.

"There is an especially good reason to drive defensively this holiday season, as our nation is on the verge of making traffic safety history," said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the NSC. "Yet we know the holidays bring increased incidence of drunk driving and often other safety risks, such as those posed by winter weather or drowsy driving."

"The Council urges everyone on the road this holiday to wear a seat belt," Froetscher said. "Seat belts are the single best defense against drunk drivers and the most effective way to protect passengers and reduce fatalities in crashes. And please, if you plan to drink at a holiday party, don't drive. Alcohol impairment is a factor in 32 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities."

In addition to the human loss, motor-vehicle crashes present a significant national expenditure in lost wages and productivity, medical expenses, administrative expenses, employer costs and property damage. The estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries, and property damage was $257.7 billion in 2007.

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