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Traveling for the holidays is a common occurrence for many in the United States, and, as gas prices have continued to drop, the U.S. has seen an increase in holiday travel.
To make the most of their vacation opportunities, many people choose to take advantage of the three-day weekends. When a holiday does not fall on a three-day weekend, like Christmas or Independence Day, people may choose to travel in advance or leave the day after the holiday.
A three-day weekend is defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as 6 p.m. Friday to 5:59 AM the following Tuesday and is a convenient time to travel.
Most Americans will consider starting their travels on Friday, right after work. Some Americans extend their three-day weekends by taking an extra day off, leaving Thursday night or Friday morning.
With more people traveling on the road, the holidays must be a time for increased awareness concerning the potential dangers of driving during times of high traffic.
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We compiled information from the NHTSA to evaluate each U.S. holiday based on the average number of fatal crashes per day during a four-day holiday period.
Statistics used in the study included:
- Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day
- Holiday Deviation from an Average Day in the U.S.
- Holiday Percent Difference from an Average Day in the U.S.
- Holiday Period (four days) Deviation from an Average Four-Day Period in the U.S.
- Holiday Period (four days) Percent Difference from an Average Four-Day Period in the U.S.
This information allows us to determine which holidays have the highest and lowest risk for fatal car accidents.
Five Highest-Risk Holidays
#5 – Thanksgiving
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 95
During this four-day holiday period, there is an average of 95 deadly crashes per day, with the highest number of fatal crashes typically occurring the Monday before Thanksgiving and the lowest number occurring on Thanksgiving day.
In 2014, there was a total number of 380 deaths during the Thanksgiving holiday period.
#4 – Independence Day
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 100.75
With a total of 403 deaths in 2014, the Fourth of July holiday is well-known for being dangerous.
The average number of deadly crashes during the four-day period is over 100, with the highest number of fatal crashes occurring on July 5th.
#2 – Halloween
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 102.25
Tied with Memorial Day for number two on our list, the Halloween holiday period saw a total of 409 fatal car crashes in 2014.
The average number of crashes per day was just over 102, with the highest number of fatal crashes taking place the day after Halloween (132), a Saturday.
#2 – Memorial Day
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 102.25
With the same number of fatal crashes during the four-day holiday period in 2014 as Halloween, Memorial Day is the second-worst holiday period to travel during.
Though Memorial Day itself is a fairly safe day to travel (12.3 fewer fatal crashes than an average day in the U.S.), the weekend leading up to Memorial Day is dangerous. In 2014, 340 fatal crashes occurred from Friday to Sunday.
#1 – Labor Day
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 103.25
Topping our list as the worst holiday for fatal car crashes, the average number of deadly accidents during Labor Day weekend is 20.57 percent higher than the national average for a four-day period.
In 2014, the highest number of fatal accidents (119) happened the Saturday before Labor Day and the entire four-day period saw 413 deadly crashes.
Five Lowest-Risk Holidays
#5 – New Year’s Eve
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 78.75
In 2014, there were 315 fatal crashes during the New Year’s Eve holiday. The highest number of crashes occurred on New Years Day (105) and the second-highest — on New Year’s Eve — was 75.
There were 6.3 fewer fatal accidents on New Year’s Eve than on an average day in the U.S.
#4 – Ash Wednesday
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 75
Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent, saw 49 deadly accidents on the day and 300 for the four-day holiday period in 2014.
There were 39.75 percent fewer fatal crashes on Ash Wednesday than on an average day in the U.S., making it the safest holiday to travel out of the entire year.
#3 – St. Patrick’s Day
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 74.75
With an average of 74.75 fatal accidents per day during the holiday period, St. Patrick’s Day (which fell on a Monday) itself was a safe day for travels in 2014.
There were 63 deadly crashes that day — 22.54 percent fewer than an average day in America — and 299 for the entire holiday period.
#2 – President’s Day
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 72
President’s Day saw 60 fatal accidents making it the second-lowest holiday for fatal crashes in 2014.
However, the majority of deadly accidents (89) for the four-day period occurred the Saturday before the holiday.
#1 – Martin Luther King’s Birthday
Average Number of Fatal Crashes per Day: 71.75
Boasting the top spot on our list of safest holidays for travel, Martin Luther King’s Birthday saw 287 fatal car accidents in 2014, which is 16.21 percent below the average four-day period.
With an average of 71.75 fatal accidents per day, the holiday period had 13.9 fewer accidents overall than a typical four-day period in the U.S.
The Best Predictors of Fatal Accidents During a Holiday
While there are many reasons for accidents on the road, certain trends have become apparent when it comes to holiday traveling, including low gas prices, an increase holiday travel, and an increase in drunk driving.
Lower gas prices, as previously mentioned, have encouraged more people to travel over holiday weekends.
The increase in travelers on the road provides more opportunity for car accidents, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in travelers is the main reason for an increase in fatal accidents.
The more likely culprit? An increase in drunk driving should take most of the blame.
For example, “Over the Labor Day holiday period (6 p.m. August 29 – 5:59 a.m. September 2) in 2014, there were 401 crash fatalities nationwide. Almost half (48 percent) of those fatal crashes involved drivers who had been drinking (0.01+ BAC).”
Though it’s illegal for anyone to get behind the wheel with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, at least one person is still killed as a result of a drunk driver every 53 minutes.
Key Metrics to Note
(Click here to see interactive graphics)
While these metrics show a similar pattern from year to year, there are a few deviations when it comes to specific holidays.
When Halloween is on a weekend, especially a Friday, that holiday period becomes exponentially more deadly than when Halloween falls on a weeknight.
Similarly, when Cinco de Mayo falls on a Saturday, the holiday period sees an increase in fatal accidents, especially related to drunk driving.
Additionally, Good Friday — the Friday before Easter — typically has 20 percent increase in fatal crashes than the annual average. More than likely, this increase is due to individuals traveling to spend time with loved ones between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Areas for Further Study
Since our study focuses only on fatal crashes, there is potential for deadlier holiday periods overall when the total number of deaths from a crash is considered.
Complete Rankings: Worst Holidays
– To sort the table by category, click on header columns.
|HOLIDAY||HOLIDAY PERIOD AVERAGE||CRASHES ON ACTUAL HOLIDAY||TOTAL FOR HOLIDAY PERIOD||HOLIDAY DEVIATION (CRASH DAYS) FROM AVERAGE||PERIOD DEVIATION (CRASH DAYS) FROM AVERAGE|
|New Year's Day||86.00||99||344||17.67||0.37|
|Martin Luther King's Birthday (observed)||71.75||62||287||-19.33||-13.88|
|St. Patrick's Day||74.75||63||299||-18.33||-10.88|
|Cinco de Mayo||84.75||62||339||-19.33||-0.88|
|New Year's Eve||78.75||75||315||-6.33||-6.88|
More Recent Results for this Study: