Despite the carols encouraging love and good will, the sermons and surface greetings, the holiday season is one of the most dangerous times of year. Perhaps it is our distraction with the many things we want to accomplish, perhaps something else, but statistics show that this time of year is quite hazardous to life, limb and property.
Common sense tells us that winter weather makes for dangerous walking and driving. Daylight is scarce, sometimes even during hours normally considered to be “day”. Low temperatures freeze available moisture, making roads and sidewalks slick, even though there may not have been any measurable precipitation. Heavy clothes bind joints, making us less agile than we otherwise might be, and less able to correct a loss of balance. The result of this is more falls, more collisions, and more meetings by “accident”!
Few of us claim to have all the time we need to accomplish the tasks we “need” to accomplish as well as those we “want” to do; this time of year, however, seems to aggravate the problem. Between shopping, wrapping, writing, mailing, cooking, decorating, and fretting over getting all this done, neither driving nor walking are at the forefront of our minds when doing those activities. The studies on distracted driving have been quoted in the press repeatedly; in fact they are one of the reasons for the restrictions on teen age licenses. Cell phones, conversations with others in the car, and adjusting music players are common reasons for accidents during the rest of the year. The addition of holiday mental distraction greatly increases the incidents of serious accidents.
In a world in which the ability to multitask seems prized over most any other ability, it seems strange to concentrate on one task at a time; however, when driving, that is the safest course. Before getting into the car this holiday season, take the time to make a list – what are you planning to do? Where do you need to go, in what order, and how will you get there? Many memory specialists decry the use of written lists, claiming that the use of them causes us not to rely on – and use – the mental powers we have. This time of year it seems wiser to use a pen and paper, leaving the memory exercises for another month! Set the controls for music or temperature on the car either before starting or when at a red light, not while driving. Drive both defensively and courteously. Your goal should be the ability to get home safely, not quickly! Be aware that the other driver is probably multitasking, not wholly aware of his or her surroundings, and may well run that stop sign or rush the red light. Save yourself by not being in his way!
Property safety becomes an issue this time of year as well. Already law enforcement officials have reported an increase in vehicle and home burglaries. Part of this can be attributed to the economy; hard times have normally led to an increase in thefts. Part can also be credited to the time of year; there seem to have always been those who prefer to leave the shopping (and paying!) to others, then browse through your selections. Earlier this year, we had a group of young men engage in an activity previously unknown to me, ”cooler hopping”. This involved prowling through the coolers and equipment in the beds of pickups that were parked at local motels. By their nature, pickup trucks lend themselves to this problem; without a secure box, which is attached to the frame of the vehicle, the bed of these trucks cannot be secured.
This is the time of year to be very aware of the items visible in your vehicle through windows. Bags from retailers, boxes and wrapped presents seem to present an irresistible temptation. Locked doors and secured windows will at least slow down most thieves. Coupled with nothing of interest clearly visible, this measure will send most on to another car. Cutting through canvas tops or sides or breaking windows is not unheard of, however, especially if the items visible are worth the effort. Take the time to park under a light – even though you may have to walk a little farther. If you are returning to your car at night, have your keys and cell phone ready; if things don’t look right, call for assistance. Police officers would rather be there when you don’t need them than pick up the pieces after a tragedy.
Home burglaries increase this time of year, as well. Most of us will be away more often than usual, with shopping, parties, and end of year meetings. We are blessed to live in a relatively safe community; however, anyone with sense knows that by now there are all sorts of interesting “new” items in every home, items which haven’t even been opened! Before leaving the house, secure the doors and windows, as well as all gates and fences. Even though most burglars know that lights and radios are likely to be left on…do it! At least that raises the question of whether or not someone is there…dark and quiet leave no question. As with the vehicle, if things seem “off” when you return, do not enter, but call for law enforcement.
Most of us look at the holidays with at least some anticipation. Few things can “sour” the feeling as well as an accident or burglary. Take a little time for yourself this season, the time required to be safe.
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .