Are YOU the mean holiday driver that everyone hates?
Anyone who's watched shoppers morph into storm troopers while grabbing bargains knows how intense the holidays can be. The seasonal crazy-making also leads to aggressive driving and more accidents, according to a new report.
State Farm and KRC Research recently surveyed 1,000 drivers nationwide, with nearly a third confessing that they're likely to be more aggressive behind the wheel during the winter holidays. About two out of three (64 percent) of those questioned say they've been victimized by a reckless or harried driver six times or more during the past three months.
What qualifies as aggressive driving? It could mean anything from speeding to changing lanes dangerously and cutting someone off to driving erratically in a crowded shopping mall lot while searching for a parking spot. These year-long threats get worse around the holidays, especially leading up to Christmas, says Chris Mullen, State Farm's director of technology research.
"There are various contributing factors, including that traffic is way up this time of year," she says. "Crashes are up around Thanksgiving and especially December 21 to 26. People tend to be more frustrated, more stressed, and that impacts their driving. In general, people are driving too fast, usually to get someplace or get something done, when their emotions are high."
Drivers during the holidays: Grinch or angel?
Finding a parking space, which can feel like a futile odyssey during a busy gift-buying day, presents challenges. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that about 20 percent of all vehicle accidents happen in parking lots, with the crashes accounting for more than 14 percent of all collision claims each year.
"It can be very stressful, going around and around looking for a spot when the lot is so full," Mullen says. "But our advice, as it is all year, is to be aware of your periphery, what's around you, and relax. Just try to take your time."
Here are the survey's other key findings, according to State Farm:
- Forty-four percent of drivers said they've driven aggressively in the past three months.
- Thirty-two percent of younger drivers (ages 18 to29), 28 percent of those middle-aged (30 to 49) and 30 percent of parents were "significantly more likely" to report being provoked by an aggressive driver or drive aggressively themselves around the major winter holidays. But only 9 percent of older drivers (50 and above) and 15 percent of non-parents were in that category.
- About half of participants said men and women were equally courteous when driving. But when asked about being aggressive behind-the-wheel, 54 percent said men were more likely to be culprits. Ten percent said women were more likely. Thirty-seven percent thought men and women were equally inclined to drive aggressively.
- Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said traffic jams are the biggest contributor to aggressive driving, followed by running late (55 percent) and problems tied to road closures or construction (47 percent).
Car insurance rates can increase after an accident - bah humbug!
An accident you cause might lead to a jump in your car insurance rates. Even a fender-bender in the mall lot could bring a small hike if you're at fault, although some insurers do forgive these minor mishaps, especially if you have a good driving record. Motorists can also expect higher premiums, sometimes much higher for repeat offenses, if they're ticketed for speeding or reckless driving.
If you hit someone else's car and damage it while doing holiday errands, the driver can file a claim under your property damage liability, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com. If your car is damaged, you must have collision coverage to file a claim - but only if the cost to fix the damage exceeds your deductible amount. If it's lower, then you'll need to pay out-of-pocket for the repairs.
If your car gets hit, and the other driver is insured, you can make a third-party claim against the individual's property damage liability coverage. If the insurance company finds its driver at fault, it should pay for your vehicle's repairs, says Gusner.
If the other driver's insurer denies your claim for some reason, or the other car is uninsured, you must have collision coverage to make a first-party claim with your own car insurance company for your vehicle's damage. You will have to pay the collision deductible, but if your car insurance company finds the other party at fault, it might pursue that individual for payment and may be able to recoup your deductible in the process, says Gusner.
Don't get scrooged by a holiday car accident
Here are a few motoring tips, as suggested by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the Department of Transportation and State Farm:
- Control your behavior. Speeding and driving too fast for road conditions accounts for about one-third of all fatal car crashes, so resist the urge to rush even if you're in a hurry. Also, don't run lights - it's one of the most common causes of collisions in metro areas, says the insurer.
- Control your emotions. Try not to take the bad driving behavior of others as a personal assault and keep a check on your competitive spirit when behind the wheel - get out of the way of an aggressive driver.
- Understand driving conditions in advance. The GHSA says you should consider the weather, heavy traffic or parking lot congestion when determining if you'll need extra time for a trip. Also, use public transportation when expecting disruptive weather or crowded highways.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.
Follow him on Twitter @destoups