How to Spot and Avoid Drunk Drivers This Holiday Season

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), every holiday season, hundreds of lives are lost due to drunk drivers. In 2017, a total of 781 people died in drunk-driving-related crashes in December alone. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that 40 percent of traffic-related deaths during Christmas and New Year’s involve drunk drivers—a 12 percent increase over the rest of December.

The fact is that more drinking and driving occurs over the holidays, and more highway deaths related to alcohol occur during the holidays than at any other time of year. You can increase your odds of staying safe by watching for signs that a driver may be drunk and then taking the appropriate action.

Signs a Driver May Be Drunk

Drunk drivers often exhibit behaviors that betray their inebriated state.

  • Swerving: Drunk drivers are more likely to swerve into other lanes, or to move from lane to lane for no apparent reason. They may also weave or zigzag across the road.
  • Excessive or unusual braking: If a driver near you brakes erratically, especially if there’s no one in front of him or no reason for him to be braking, he could be intoxicated.
  • Speeding: This is a common and frequent sign of a drunk driver, and unfortunately, usually the most dangerous as you have little time to react.
  • Abrupt turning: Drunk drivers may turn suddenly or illegally, potentially crossing in front of you. They may also make very wide turns.
  • Following too closely: A driver who comes up far too close behind you may have her depth perception altered by alcohol. Proceed with caution!
  • Nearly striking something: The driver may nearly strike another vehicle or something alongside the road, then turn away at the last minute.
  • Driving without headlights: When intoxicated, the driver may forget to turn on his headlights.
  • Driving on the wrong side: If a car is coming toward you on the wrong side of the road, that driver is likely drunk or high.

How to Defend Yourself from Drunk Drivers

If you see signs like those above while you’re on the road, take the following steps:

  • Always wear your seatbelt: You can do a lot to avoid drunk drivers on the road, but accidents still happen. Wearing your seat belt helps reduce the risk that a crash will be fatal, and can help reduce the likelihood of serious injuries as well.
  • Avoid driving at night: Most alcohol-related accidents happen after dark, so the more you can avoid driving during those hours over the holiday season, the safer you’ll be.
  • Maintain a generous following distance: Staying back gives you more time to react to erratic driving, and can also make it easier to notice a drunk driver before you get too close. If you see someone driving strangely, stay back, even if you have to slow down to do so.
  • Never assume: It’s common to assume that drivers will follow the rules of the road, but during the holidays, it’s more likely that some won’t. Watch carefully. Be extra cautious when waiting for other drivers to take action and when traveling through intersections.
  • Use extra caution on holidays: If you can, avoid driving on Friday or Saturday nights during December, or on New Year’s Eve. If you need to drive, use extra caution, and give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.
  • Stick to major roadways: Smaller, rural highways are where a large percentage of car accidents occur. Typically, these roads have poorer visibility than main highways, along with more challenging curves, and they may have frequent wildlife crossings.
  • Keep your car maintained: Properly maintaining your vehicle helps you avoid reckless drivers. Make sure your brakes, steering, and tires are all in good shape.

Report suspicious driving: If you spot another car driving erratically, call the police with the location and the make, model, and color of the car if you can.