With the holidays right around the corner, it’s a good time to be mindful of the risks associated with being on the roadways at this time of year and the need to drive with extra caution. While July 4th and New Year’s are statistically the deadliest holidays for traffic accidents, it might surprise some that Thanksgiving time is not far behind—even deadlier than Labor Day weekend.
In 2017, 528 people were killed nationwide in crashes during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the busiest travel time of the year.
Because of the alcohol consumption associated with holidays, accidents inevitably rise at these times of the year. The two holidays with the highest total number of traffic fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), are New Year’s Eve/Day and the Fourth of July, which were virtually tied between 2010 and 2015 at an average of about 118 deaths annually. (July 4th is the deadliest day of the year for motorcyclists.)
However, New Year’s leads in alcohol-related traffic crashes, which accounted for 62 percent of accident fatalities.
Binge drinking around Thanksgiving a recipe for disaster
Traditionally, Thanksgiving was more known for being a family- and food-oriented, football-watching holiday than a heavy drinking holiday like New Year’s Eve. But in recent years, that has been changing. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving in particular has gained notoriety as a partying night centered around binge-drinking most notably for college students and young adults, becoming known as “Black Wednesday” and “Drinksgiving.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2013 and 2017 more than 800 people died in drunk-driving crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period (Wednesday night to Monday morning), making it one of the deadliest holidays on the road.
The danger of being involved in an alcohol-related crash continues through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. During December 2017, 885 people lost their lives in traffic crashes involving a drunk driver. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is also characterized by more hours of darkness and inclement weather, contributing to the likelihood of traffic mishaps.
However, it’s the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day that are the most deadly time of year generally, largely because of high school and college students being out of school along with the fact that vacationing Americans drive more miles during the summer months. Fatalities are higher on weekends and evenings, and spike around Independence Day and Labor Day. (In 2017, 376 people were killed over Labor Day weekend, 36% in a crash involving a drunk driver.)
Because of law enforcement initiatives aimed at reducing drunk driving during these periods such as the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, the Fourth of July holiday—which had been the deadliest day of the year according to IIHS—has seen a recent decline in fatalities; New Year’s, however, not so much.
Dangerous for cyclists, pedestrians too
Traffic safety officials stress that It’s not just drivers of motor vehicles who need to be cautious about taking to the roads after indulging in merriment at the holidays. Pedestrians and bicyclists are not only at greater risk of being hit by drunk drivers, they also place themselves in danger when they travel in an impaired state.
If you do get into a car, it’s more important than ever to buckle up. NHTSA reports that about half of those killed over Thanksgiving in 2017 were not wearing seat belts.