How to keep your family safer while celebrating winter holidays

Gifts, decorations, travel and cold weather pose significant risks for those unprepared

Unexpected trips to the hospital can spoil holiday fun for families and friends as they gather to celebrate.

“Every year, we see patients experience preventable injuries during the holidays,” said Brit L. Anderson, M.D., physician with Norton Children’s Emergency Medicine, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Norton Children’s encourages families to take extra precautions to ensure they spend their time celebrating with loved ones instead of visiting one of our emergency departments.”

Help keep your families and friends safer — and out of emergency rooms — throughout the holidays by keeping the following tips in mind during the festivities.

Travel safety

With millions of Americans traveling this month, motor vehicle crashes pose serious and sometimes fatal hazards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 10,000 people were killed in crashes during the first quarter of 2022, the highest number of first-quarter traffic fatalities since 2002.

“Every year thousands of children are hurt or killed in motor vehicle crashes, and a lot of these injuries can be prevented through proactive measures,” said Sharon J. Rengers, injury prevention coordinator for Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness. “By taking a few simple steps, families can mitigate the risks associated with roadway travel and make sure their children stay safer during the holidays.”

  • Everybody needs their own restraint. Make it a rule: everyone buckled, every ride, every time, whether it’s the long trip to visit family or around the block.
  • If you are flying, take your car seat with you and use it on the plane. It will be a benefit to have it with you at your destination and when you travel to and from the airport. Let car rental companies know in advance if you need to rent a car seat or booster seat.
  • Watch out for small kids and distracted drivers in parking lots that are busier than usual during the holidays.
  • Remind your inexperienced teen driver to be extra alert during the holidays, when people are more distracted and the weather can be tricky.
  • Avoid distractions while driving. No text message or playlist is worth the risk of taking your eyes off the road. Set your GPS to voice-activated so you can concentrate on driving without having to look at your phone.
  • Plan to use a driver or car service to make sure you get home safely if you drink alcohol.
  • Keep car exhaust pipes clear of packed snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Secure loose objects. Put hot foods, large gifts and anything that could fly around in a crash in the trunk.
  • Prepare for weather emergencies by packing extra blankets, food and diapers. Keep your phone charged, and make sure someone at your destination knows the route you are planning to take.

Accidental injuries and choking hazards

As families and friends gather to celebrate the holidays, helping kids avoid accidental injuries is of utmost importance, especially if the home typically doesn’t entertain children.

  • Secure weapons and store them where children cannot access them. Unloaded firearms and ammunition should be locked and stored in separate locations.
  • Store medications and alcohol in locked cabinets out of reach of children.
  • Always keep medicines in their original containers and be aware of all medicines in your home and how many pills are left in the containers.
  • Store guests’ coats and purses in a secure location where children cannot access them and their contents, which sometimes could include weapons or medications.
  • Don’t leave alcoholic drinks where kids can reach them. Take special care during parties, and keep an eye on guests’ drinks too. Clean up promptly after the party so kids don’t find drinks left behind.
  • Store household cleaning and pest control products out of reach of children.
  • Use safety latches for all cabinets containing cleaning products or other chemicals.
  • Keep kids away from seasonal plants. Some holiday houseplants like lilies, poinsettia, holly and mistletoe are toxic.
  • Make sure young children have trusted adults or babysitters caring for them while you’re away at work during holiday breaks.

Toy safety

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) estimates that 152,800 emergency department patients 14 and younger arrived at hospitals with toy-related injuries in 2021. Of those, 143,200 were patients 12 and younger, and 76,900 were patients 4 and younger.

Toy-related accidents can be fatal. Two kids 12 or younger died from toy-related injuries in 2021, down from 11 in 2020 and 16 in 2019, according to CPSC.

  • Ensure toys and gifts are age-appropriate.
  • Ensure kids use safety gear like helmets when using riding toys like bicycles and scooters.
  • Ensure kids cannot access small button batteries from their toys. Swallowing these batteries can be dangerous.
  • Follow safety information included on packaging and manuals.
  • Keep little toys and those with small parts away from children younger than 3.
  • Immediately discard plastic wrap and other packaging once gifts are opened.