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Holidays are a wonderful time to relax, unwind, and spend quality time with family members and friends. For most people, the holidays often involve a good bit of traveling from one place to another.
Because holidays are generally a time of increased travel on the roads, there is also an increased chance for unfortunate — and occasionally fatal — car accidents to occur.
For example, according to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2014, Thanksgiving Day alone saw 403 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. — the most of any holiday that year.
A study from the University of Alabama also discovered that 50 more people on average died in traffic crashes during Thanksgiving week in 2014 than during other weeks that year.
If you’re planning on traveling during the holidays, make sure you have the right coverage in place. Enter your zip code into our FREE comparison tool above to get started!
Top 5 Highest Risk Holidays for Fatal Crashes
All of this information may have you curious as to which holidays are the best, and worst, for traffic fatalities. If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered, as the remainder of this article will focus on the holidays with the best and worst track records for fatal accidents on the road.
Also, you can learn about our methodology and data by clicking here.
#5 – Cinco de Mayo
Fatal Crash Average: 107.25
Fatal Crash Total: 429
The fifth of May may be a relatively minor holiday in Mexico celebrating the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.
Cinco de Mayo is not the commonly misunderstood Independence Day for Mexico — September 16 is Mexico’s Independence Day.
The U.S. has taken May 5th to a whole new level; Cinco de Mayo has become a day to commemorate Mexican culture and heritage.
Surprisingly, the three days leading up to Cinco de Mayo in 2015 each had a greater number of fatal crashes compared to the actual holiday:
- May 2nd – 122 fatal crashes
- May 3rd – 142 fatal crashes
- May 4th – 85 fatal crashes
- May 5th – 80 crashes
#4 – Halloween
Fatal Crash Average: 108.75
Fatal Crash Total: 435
Originating from Celtic history, Samhain, or Halloween, marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. They believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead.
Despite turning into a day of merriment, costume, parades, and sweet treats for children and adults, Halloween is still a somber day as six more people died in fatal car crashes in 2015 compared to Cinco de Mayo.
#3 – Independence Day
Fatal Crash Average: 109.5
Fatal Crash Total: 449
Independence Day celebrates the United States declaring themselves independent of the British empire through the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies.
Since July 4th is a highly recognized holiday throughout the U.S., it’s no wonder this holiday came up in the top five highest risk holidays for fatal crashes. A record 37.5 million people typically hit the road during this time, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Out of the four days making up that holiday period, the Fourth had the most fatal crashes with 129 total fatal car accidents on the holiday. That’s roughly 20 more crashes than the total average for the Independence Day holiday period in 2015.
#2 – Columbus Day
Fatal Crash Average: 112.25
Fatal Crash Total: 449
Columbus Day celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Most states that celebrate Columbus Day will close state services, while others operate as normal.
Surprisingly the three days leading up to Columbus Day saw more fatal car accidents occur across the U.S. in 2015 than on the actual holiday:
- October 9, 2015 – 96 fatal car crashes
- October 10, 2015 – 121 fatal car crashes
- October 11, 2015 – 139 fatal crashes
- October 12, 2015 – 93 fatal crashes
#1 – Labor Day
Fatal Crash Average: 115.25
Fatal Crash Total: 461
Labor Day is the first Monday in September and was created by the labor movement to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers.
Throughout the years, the nation has given increasing emphasis to Labor Day as a time to travel, and in 2015, Labor Day was officially the highest risk holiday period for fatal crashes.
Of the four consecutive days making up the Labor Day holiday period, Labor Day was the only day that had less than 100 fatal car accidents occur in the U.S. — there were 94 fatal car accidents that day.
Over the course of five years (2010 to 2015), the Labor Day holiday period still comes out on top with a total of 2,140 fatal car accidents across the U.S.
For the year 2016, the NSC estimated about 438 people would be killed in traffic crashes during the Labor Day holiday weekend, from September 2nd to September 5th. This was the council’s highest estimate since 2008.
The rise in road fatalities on this holiday is a trend that began in 2014 and shows no sign of declining.
Top 5 Lowest Risk Holidays for Fatal Crashes
#5 – Christmas
Fatal Crash Average: 82.25
Fatal Crash Total: 329
Christmas has been a nationally recognized holiday in the U.S. since 1870.
Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon.
Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends, and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
One may think that inclement winter weather might be a big factor for fatal crashes on this holiday, but surprisingly, 40 percent of traffic-related deaths during Christmas and New Year’s involve drunk drivers — a 12 percent increase over the rest of the month of December.
Despite those statistics, the Christmas holiday poses a relatively low risk for fatal car accidents.
#4 – President’s Day
Fatal Crash Average: 81.75
Fatal Crash Total: 327
Presidents’ Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington’s birthday, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government.
Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, both past and present.
Thankfully, those traveling over the President’s Day holiday don’t have much to worry about when it comes to fatal accidents.
Even though the holiday is ranked fourth on our list, President’s Day ranks first for the lowest number of total fatal car accidents over a five-year period (2010 to 2015) with 1,442 total fatal accidents.
#3 – New Year’s Day
Fatal Crash Average: 78.75
Fatal Crash Total: 315
New Year’s Day has been around since 46 B.C., thanks to Julius Caesar, who introduced the Julian calendar.
Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future.
Common traditions for celebrating New Year’s Day include attending parties, eating special meals, making resolutions for the new year, and watching firework displays.
It looks like people are also making a resolution to stay safe on the roads for New Year’s Day, since the average amount of fatal car crashes during that holiday period was 78.75 in 2015. That’s less than the average total number of fatal crashes from 2010 to 2015, which was 84.
#2 – New Year’s Eve
Fatal Crash Average: 77.5
Fatal Crash Total: 155
The New Year’s celebrations actually start with New Year’s Eve. Revelers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year, including:
- Grapes (Spain and Spanish-speaking countries)
- Lentils (Italy)
- Black-eyed peas (the South in the U.S.)
- Pork (Cuba, Austria, Hungary, and Portugal)
- Ring-shaped cakes or pastries (Netherlands, Mexico, and Greece)
- Rice pudding with an almond hidden inside (Sweden and Norway)
People also celebrate by watching fireworks, singing songs like “Auld Lang Syne,” and watching the ball drop in NYC’s Times Square.
Ultimately, one universal tradition of New Year’s Eve is making resolutions for the upcoming year — this tradition has been around since the time of the Babylonians.
New Year’s Eve has improved in the most recent year since the average total number of fatal crashes for the five-year period was 83.35. For 2015, the average for fatal crashes was 77.5.
#1 – Ash Wednesday
Fatal Crash Average: 68.5
Fatal Crash Total: 274
Ash Wednesday marks the onset of the Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and abstinence. The practice of Ash Wednesday dates back to the 11th century.
The most familiar Ash Wednesday observance — the ash crosses worn on the foreheads of many churchgoers — became more widespread in the U.S. in the 1970s.
With regard to safety on the roads, Ash Wednesday was the safest holiday period in 2015. Ash Wednesday had the lowest average number of fatal crashes (68.5) and was in the negative in four categories:
- Holiday Deviation (Crash Days) from Average – (-29 percent)
- Holiday Percent Difference from Average – (-31.87 percent)
- Period Deviation (Crash Days) from Average – (-25.1 percent)
- Period Percent Difference from Average – (-26.84 percent)
Highlights and Trends
The holidays with the lowest risk of fatal crashes in 2015 all fell within three consecutive cold months — December, January, and February:
- Ash Wednesday – February 18
- New Year’s Eve – December 31
- New Year’s Day – January 1
- President’s Day – February 16
- Christmas – December 25
Additionally, the worst holiday periods for fatal crashes in 2015 were mostly in warmer months (excluding Columbus Day and Halloween in October):
- Labor Day – September 7
- Columbus Day – October 12
- Independence Day – July 4
- Halloween – October 31
- Cinco de Mayo – May 5
The majority of accidents occur between June and November. In the snowy month of February, just six percent of fatalities occur. But by the time June and July arrive, nine percent of the year’s fatalities occur within each month.
Fatalities on the road also peak at ten percent in August.
There are several common causes for fatalities in the warmer months of the year, including:
- More inexperienced drivers on the road (because students are out of school)
- More construction on the road
- Traveling vacationers
- Cyclists and motorcyclists are more prevalent
- Road rage due to the heat and road conditions
- Increased chances of tire blowouts
Since Labor Day weekend is viewed by many to be the final summer getaway, it’s one of the busiest holiday travel weekends of the year.
The American Red Cross actually offers a few safety tips for traveling during the Labor Day weekend. These tips include:
- Pack an emergency kit that includes water, food, a flashlight, and first aid
- Tell someone your destination, route, and ETA
- Buckle up and obey traffic signs
- Do not text or talk on the phone while driving
- Never drink and drive
Aside from being good advice during busy traffic seasons, these safety tips are a good rule of thumb whenever you’re behind the wheel. And even though the safest holidays typically occur during the winter months, it doesn’t hurt to further ensure your safety on the road.
For a few driving safety tips during the winter holidays, click here.
Most of us love the holidays and what they represent, but we should always be mindful of dangers of traveling. Always take precautions before hitting the road and pay attention to your surroundings while you’re driving.
If you want to make sure that you’re in safe hands, you can compare at least three to four car insurance policies today to get the best auto insurance coverage. Enter your ZIP code below to get started!
For our study, we gathered information from the NHTSA to rank each holiday period in relation to fatal car crashes.
We also researched data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia (FARS) concerning the number of licensed drivers in the U.S. and the total number of car crashes from 2010 to 2015 — with our major focus being on statistics available from 2015.
With all of this information, we were able to figure out how 18 holiday periods, each period spanning four days, ranked for fatal car crashes.
Our ranking system was based on the following categories:
- Total Number of Fatal Crashes (for the holiday and surrounding three days)
- Fatal Crash Average
- Holiday Deviation (Crash Days) from Average
- Holiday Percent Difference from Average
- Period Deviation (Crash Days) from Average
- Period Percent Difference from Average
All of this information allowed us to discover the U.S. holidays that present the highest and lowest risk for fatal car accidents.
Complete Rankings: Worst and Best Holidays
– To sort the table by category, click on header columns.
|DATE||HOLIDAY||FATALITIES ON HOLIDAY DAY||FATALITIES ON HOLIDAY 4-DAY PERIOD||AVERAGE|
|12/31/2014||New Year's Day||105||315||78.75|
|01/18/2015||Martin Luther King's Birthday (observed)||71||345||86.25|
|03/16/2015||St. Patrick's Day||75||357||89.25|
|05/04/2015||Cinco de Mayo||80||429||107.25|
|12/30/2015||New Year's Eve||80||155||77.50|
Other Years for this Study: