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States with the biggest increase in road fatalities during the holidays

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With air travel still suppressed in the wake of COVID-19, those making holiday travel plans will likely be traveling by car. While reduced public air travel helps to prevent the spread of the virus, increased road travel raises the risk for accidents and road fatalities, making holidays a particularly dangerous time to travel. 

Around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, the rate of fatal car accidents increases by over 10 percent. Around other holidays, the frequency of fatal crashes rises even further. Days near summer holidays tend to be the most dangerous, especially around the Fourth of July. This holiday period averages nearly 140 fatal crashes per day, a 54 percent rise above non-holiday rates.

In addition to busier roads, the holiday season is also associated with increased drunk driving. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that drunk driving is particularly prevalent during the New Years holiday, as 42 percent of fatal crashes during this holiday period involve a driver over the legal limit. By comparison, 30 percent of fatal crashes during non-holiday periods involve drunk drivers.


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To profile the states with the largest increase in fatal vehicle crashes during holiday periods, researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over a 15-year period (2004 to 2018). Increases in fatal vehicle crashes during holiday periods were calculated by comparing holiday periods to non-holiday periods. Researchers also highlighted which specific holiday periods were most susceptible to fatal vehicle crashes in each state.

 

States with the largest increase in fatal vehicle crashes during holiday periods tend to be those with lower population densities that record lower numbers of fatal vehicle crashes on a daily basis. For instance, Alaska, which recorded the largest increase in fatal vehicle crashes during holiday periods, averages less than one fatal vehicle crash per day during non-holiday periods. However, during holiday periods, such crashes increase by 72 percent and account for 8 percent of annual fatal vehicle crashes in Alaska.

Here are the 20 states with the largest increase in fatal vehicle crashes during holiday periods.

States with the largest increase in fatal vehicle crashes during holiday periods


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

20. Montana

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 34.3%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.71
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.53
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.5%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

19. Texas

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 35.4%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 11.33
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 8.37
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

18. Rhode Island

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 35.7%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.23
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.17
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

17. West Virginia

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 36.1%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Memorial Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 1.14
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.84
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

16. New Hampshire

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 36.1%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.43
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.32
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Oregon

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 36.5%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 1.37
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 1.00
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Virginia

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 37.0%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 2.81
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 2.05
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. New Jersey

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 37.0%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Christmas
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 2.16
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 1.57
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Maryland

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 37.5%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Labor Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 1.86
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 1.35
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.7%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Mississippi

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 37.8%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 2.41
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 1.75
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.7%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Massachusetts

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 40.0%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Memorial Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 1.36
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.97
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.8%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Washington

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 40.2%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 1.82
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 1.30
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.8%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Idaho

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 40.9%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Labor Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.78
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.55
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.8%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Connecticut

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 41.4%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Memorial Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 1.00
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.70
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 6.8%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. South Dakota

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 48.3%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.50
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.33
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 7.1%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Wisconsin

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 51.8%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Memorial Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 2.32
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 1.53
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 7.3%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Hawaii

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 52.8%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.44
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.29
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 7.3%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Vermont

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 57.1%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Memorial Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.26
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.17
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 7.5%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Maine

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 60.6%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Labor Day
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.63
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.39
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 7.7%

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Alaska

  • Increase in fatal crashes on holidays: 71.8%
  • Most dangerous holiday for road travel: Fourth of July
  • Average fatal crashes per day on holidays: 0.30
  • Average fatal crashes per day on non-holidays: 0.17
  • Share of all fatal crashes occurring on holidays: 8.2%

Methodology & detailed findings

Although total travel has declined since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have been taking significantly more mid-distance road trips than in previous years. More miles logged on American roads, especially during holidays, increases the potential for vehicle-related accidents. With the return to “normalcy” still uncertain, it will be important that states take measures to help prevent fatal vehicle crashes and impaired driving. Officials may want to pay particularly close attention to peak travel periods which tend to occur during the summer season and holiday periods such as the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day, which are the most dangerous holidays for road travel in 48 out of the 50 states.

Data in this analysis are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for the 15-year period between 2004 and 2018. To determine the states with the largest increase in fatal crashes during holiday periods, researchers calculated the average number of fatal crashes per day during holiday periods, and compared that number to that during non-holiday periods. For each state, researchers also determined the most dangerous holiday for road travel, which is the holiday period with the greatest number of fatal crashes per day between 2004 and 2018.