“Holiday Road”

“Holiday Road,” a 1983 song written and performed by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, was popularized by its heavy use in the National Lampoon Vacation movies starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a food additive designer from Chicago, IL. Throughout these movies, a common theme emerged concerning road trips and motor vehicle-related mishaps.

Dashing through the snow

The holidays in December are a prime time to hit the road for many Americans. According to the 2014 American Automobile Association (AAA) year-end holiday forecast, almost 99 million travelers were expected to be traveling by road for the holidays. That represents a 4 percent increase from previous years and the highest travel volume since these statistics started being recorded. More than 90 percent of all travelers will be celebrating the holidays with a road trip.*

In a December 2014 press release, the National Safety Council estimated that nearly 800 total fatalities from car crashes would occur during that holiday season. These estimates differ each year as the length of the holiday periods are dependent on the day of the week on which the holiday falls. It may be 1.25 days long if December 25 falls on a Wednesday; 3.25 days long if December 25 falls on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday; or 4.25 days long if December 25 falls on a Tuesday or Thursday. With Christmas and New Year’s Day being exactly one week apart, the New Year’s period will be of identical duration for any given year. This year, the holidays land on a Friday, so the holiday periods will be 3.25 days in length.

To examine the occurrence of Christmas holiday road motor vehicle driver-related injuries in the National Trauma Data Bank® (NTDB®) research dataset for 2013, admissions medical records were searched for the 24-hour period using arrival date and time that occurred between 7:00 pm December 24 to 7:00 pm December 25, 2013. Records were then searched using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) diagnoses codes. Specifically searched were records that contained the following external cause of injury codes (E-code): E810–E819 (motor vehicle crashes) with a post decimal value of zero for driver of a car or three for driver of a motorcycle. A total of 1,090 records were found; 916 records contained a discharge status, including 623 patients discharged to home, 156 to acute care/rehab, and 66 sent to skilled nursing facilities; 71 died. Most of these patients (58.3 percent) were male, on average 42.4 years of age, had an average hospital length of stay of 7.5 days, an intensive care unit length of stay of 7.1 days, an average injury severity score of 15.8, and were on the ventilator for an average of 10 days. In all, 677 patients were tested for alcohol, and more than half (51.3 percent) tested positive. Of the 380 tested for illicit drugs, 41 percent tested positive. (See Figures 1 and 2.)

Figure 1. Hospital discharge status

Figure 1. Hospital discharge statusFigure 2. Alcohol and drug testing percentages

Figure 2. alcohol and drug testing percentages

Celebrate safely

The holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends, and statistics show that millions of Americans take to the road each year. The National Safety Council makes the following recommendations for safe travel:

  • Buckle up every trip, every time—even when traveling short distances.
  • Refrain from using electronic devices—including hands-free technology—behind the wheel.
  • Secure children in size-appropriate restraints.
  • Do not drink and drive, as impairment begins with the first drink. If you do drink, designate a sober driver or take alternate transportation.
  • Plan ahead and drive defensively, especially in bad weather.
  • Never drive when you are tired—get plenty of sleep before your trip and plan regular stops.

To quote Clark Griswold, “Why aren’t we flying? Because getting there is half the fun.” This season, let’s get there safely when we take to the holiday road.

Throughout the year, we will be highlighting these data through brief reports that will be found monthly in the Bulletin. The NTDB Annual Report 2014 is available on the ACS website as a PDF file. In addition, information is available on our website about how to obtain NTDB data for more detailed study. If you are interested in submitting your trauma center’s data, contact Melanie L. Neal, Manager, NTDB, at mneal@facs.org.


Statistical support for this article has been provided by Chrystal Caden-Price, Data Analyst, NTDB.

*AAA Newsroom. AAA: 98.6 million Americans traveling this holiday season, four percent more than last year. December 16, 2014. Available at: http://newsroom.aaa.com/2014/12/aaa-98-6-million-americans-traveling-holiday-season-four-percent-last-year/. Accessed October 2, 2015.

National Safety Council (NSC). NSC estimates nearly 800 total fatalities from car crashes this Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods. December 15, 2015. Available at: www.nsc.org/learn/about/Pages/2014-Christmas-and-NY-Holiday-Fatalities.aspx. Accessed October 2, 2015.

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