Thanksgiving is usually one of the year’s deadliest weeks for traffic crashes. Between navigating unfamiliar roads, driving late at night or after having a few drinks, and the sheer fact that when traffic volume goes up, car crash numbers generally go up as well, it’s extremely important to drive safe and be careful over this long weekend (and throughout the entire holiday season). In fact, though many people believe that New Year’s Eve is the night when most drunk driving accidents occur, but they are wrong. Thanksgiving is the holiday that statistically has the largest number of drunk driving fatalities.
To determine the most dangerous holidays for drivers, we used traffic fatality data from NHTSA. We based our ranking on the average amount of deaths on six federal holidays for which fatalities have been tracked since 1982 (we also calculated the average percentage of alcohol-related fatalities for each holiday since 1982, but that percentage did not affect the ranking). Deaths were counted for just the one day, not a holiday weekend or period.
An estimated 91% of Americans will travel by car to reach their destination this Thanksgiving, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) of the Department of Transportation. During that holiday weekend (Thursday to the following Monday), the number of Americans on a road trip longer than 50 miles increases by 54%.
Alcohol abuse is a main concern for people who track fatality data, since driving fatality rates are always higher during holiday periods than non-holiday times, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Young partygoers are particularly at risk: the NHTSA says drivers aged 21 to 24 have the highest level of involvement in alcohol-impaired driving.
“Looking at fatalities in crashes involving 21- to 24-year-old drivers during the last two weeks in December from 2002 to 2006, nearly four fatalities out of every 10 were in alcohol-impaired crashes,” a December 2008 report from NHTSA said.
Along with drunk driving, speeding and nighttime driving are major factors to fatal crashes, with days being much shorter and people not being able to use daylight for driving. Bad road conditions due to rain and snowfall also lead to more car crashes.
Driving in the dark amplifies pre-existing vision problems as well, like trouble with depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision. NHTSA says the driving fatality rate between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. is three times higher than the daytime rate. On top of that, more people are driving at night to get home as soon as possible, going to or coming back from parties, which all makes for drivers being tired and distracted, and they pay less attention to safety, often not wearing seatbelts, resulting in more severe injuries and fatalities.
It’s also essential to prevent eye fatigue. Eyes get tired when the muscle that holds the eye’s lens in place has held one position too long–like driving straight highways for long periods of time. Try choosing driving routes with trees, tall buildings or curves in them in order to lessen the tension.
With all these risks that come with Thanksgiving driving, people should pay more attention to road conditions, avoid drinking before driving by all means and try to travel during the day as much as possible.