CHIPLEY -- Along with good cheer and the warmth of loving family and friends, local emergency medical services officials say the holiday season tends to bring less fortunate scenes.
"The biggest thing that happens during the holiday is that people are distracted, they aren't paying attention," said Washington County EMS Director Randy Truette, who has been with the department for 26 years.
According to state traffic reports from Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in 2016 Washington County had 322 crashes total, including five fatalities. Holmes County in 2016 had 287 crashes total with nine fatalities.
"We see a lot of increase in (fatal) vehicle crashes on the interstate," said Holmes County EMS Director Steve Connell, who has also been with the department for 26 years. "I've always related to the fact that the colder temperature and the people riding with heaters on ... the climate change in their vehicles contribute to their drowsiness."
"That and the increase of the number of vehicles traveling down the highway are contributing factors" for the spike in crashes, he added.
While the majority of accidents in Washington County occurred in the months of January and May -- when families travel for vacations -- Holmes County saw most accidents during November.
Drivers should be more cautious of other vehicles and take measures to ensure their ability to drive creates an undistracted, safe environment for others, officials said.
"If you've driven for a period of time, make frequent stops," Connell said. "Give yourself time to relax and rest."
Thus far in 2017, Washington has had 331 crashes -- four of which occurred this month -- with eight fatalities, reports show. Holmes has had 236 crashes, five this month, with eight fatalities.
In the two years spanning 2014 to 2015, with the majority happening in Chipley, Washington saw a 33 percent increase in traffic crashes, reports show. Holmes saw a 17 percent increase for the same years -- the majority occurring in Bonifay.
Truette and Connell said their emergency rooms also see an increase of fall injuries, individuals with diabetic problems and blood pressure issues, as well as, Connell said, suicide.
"I just think its the overwhelmingness (sic) of the season," Connell said. "Maybe it's the loss of that loved one around the holidays."
For individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts, he recommends them to "reach out to your local church for counseling or reach out to someone about issues about talks you may have."