Most Dangerous U.S. Holidays

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Most Dangerous U.S. Holidays

Title belongs to Thanksgiving. Last year, 502 people were killed on the road that day. On a typical day, 102 people die in traffic accidents. Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA, says the combined factors of more than 50% more drivers on the road and higher-than-usual alcohol consumption contribute to its danger.

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Behind the Numbers

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%. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the number of trips increases by 23%.

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Eyes on the Road

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.

However, a less-hyped aspect of safe driving, especially around the holidays, is vision itself. More than 11 million Americans have uncorrected vision problems, and those lead to impaired driving, says Ed Greene, the CEO of The Vision Council, a nonprofit organization that represents manufacturers and suppliers in the optical industry.

To determine the most dangerous holidays for drivers, we used traffic fatality data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. We based our ranking on the average amount of deaths on six federal holidays for which fatalities are 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.

1. Thanksgiving Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 502
Average Number of Fatalities Per Year Since 1982: 567
Average Percentage of Alcohol-Related Fatalities Since 1982: 41%

2. Labor Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 487
Average Number of Fatalities Per Year Since 1982: 544
Average Percentage of Alcohol-Related Fatalities Since 1982: 45%

3. Independence Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 491
Average Number of Fatalities Per Year Since 1982: 542
Average Percentage of Alcohol-Related Fatalities Since 1982: 45%

4. Memorial Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 425
Average Number of Fatalities Per Year Since 1982: 508
Average Percentage of Alcohol-Related Fatalities Since 1982: 45%

5. Christmas Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 420
Average Number of Fatalities Per Year Since 1982: 414
Average Percentage of Alcohol-Related Fatalities Since 1982: 42%

Most Dangerous Times To Drive

Hannah Elliot

Forbes.com

January 21, 2009

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Minimizing risk isn’t just about when you’re on the road, but how careful you are.

Last week’s 40-vehicle pile up on Maryland’s I-70 killed two people and seriously injured 12 more. But statistically, driving on a snowy Monday afternoon in January is not even close to the most dangerous time to drive.

The most dangerous month, it turns out, is August, and Saturday the most danderous day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstratiion.

All told, auto accidents kill more than 40,000 people in the U.S. each year; they are the No. 1 cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 34.

 In Depth:  The Most Dangerous Times to Drive

 The difference between August and January 2008 road fatalities were 3,612 versus 2,818. Why the 800-person difference? There are several reasons, it turns out, some having to do with time of day, simple distreactions or even outright unsafe behavior.

The simple fact is, getting behind the wheel of a car is the riskiest thing most people do every day, says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But since fatal crashes happen in “ones and twos” scattered across the country, the general public doesn’t realize their collective toll–about 110 people per day, nationwide.

Behind the Numbers

To compile our list of the most dangerous times to drive, we consulted the latest crash reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety. We also sourced studies from University of California at Berkeley’s Traffic Safety Center, which researches motor vehicle collisions and how to avoid them.

Time of day plays an important role in evaluating fatal crashes, in no small part because other dangerous factors are compounded at night. The instances of drunk driving, speeding and driving without a safety belt all significantly increase during the night hours and each contributes directly to increased fatality rates.

Speeding is a factor in 30% of all fatal crashes, according to the NHTSA. Eighteen percent of fatal crashes during the day are alcohol-related, while 54% of crashes at night are alcohol-related. Two-thirds of the people killed at night are not wearing a seat belt.

Nationwide, 49% of fatal crashes happen at night, with a fatality rate per mile of travel about three times as high as daytime hours. Of people killed at night, roughly two-thirds aren’t wearing restraints. During the day, the percentage of unrestrained fatalities tends to be under half.

The fewest deaths by crash in 2007, the latest year with complete data, happened early in the morning, between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Those hours see significantly less traffic–only 9% of the average amount during peak hours.

Mid-week days like Tuesday and Wednesday also pose the lowest number of fatalities, both averaging fewer drivers and 96 and 100 deaths per day, respectively.

Weekends–when the greatest number of people are on the road–predictably see the highest numbers of crash victims, with a combined average of 143 deaths for Saturday and Sunday, according to the IIHS.

Simple Steps to Safety
Experts say it’s the simple things that enhance safety: wearing a seat belt, driving the right speed for the conditions and paying attention to the road. But those are the very things most drivers involved in accidents neglect to do.

Ninety-five percent of crashes are caused by human error, says Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the NHTSA, but 75% of drivers say they’re more careful than most other drivers.

“I think that people in some instances have a false sense of their own abilities and a false sense of their abilities to multitask,” Tyson says. “Since most of those crashes are a result of human error, somebody’s got to be making a lot of mistakes.”

According to AAA, 82% of drivers say distracted driving is a serious problem, but more than half say they talk on a cellphone while driving, and 14% admitted to reading or sending text messages while driving.

Nearly 75% of drivers report speeding as a serious problem, but 20% say they have driven 15 miles per hour over the speed limit on the highway, and 14% say they occasionally do the same on a neighborhood street.

Weather Woes
Driving too fast for the weather conditions plays a major role in fatal crashes each year, especially during the winter. UC Berkeley’s traffic center says speed is the single greatest contributing factor to serious crashes–not so much the violation of a posted speed limit, but when drivers ignore weather or traffic conditions that require a reduced speed.

“It’s a significant factor,” the NHTSA’s Tyson says. “If you’re on an icy, slippery road and it’s a posted speed limit of 55, if you’re going 40, you may be going too fast.” Snowfall obviously makes for dangerous road conditions. But fatalities actually drop across the nation during days with high amounts of snow, both because more people stay at home and because they tend to drive slower under inclement weather, says Daniel Eisenberg, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

The exception to that rule is the first day after a major snowstorm –it takes a day or two for drivers to regain their sense of the snow.

Researchers at Berkeley evaluated 1.4 million fatal crashes attributed to weather conditions from 1975 to 2000. They found that fatal crashes were 14% more likely to happen on the first snowy day of the season compared with subsequent ones.

It’s the Driver, Not the Car

The findings reinforce the idea that most crashes don’t involve mechanical failures on the part of the car, says Eisenberg.

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“Even though there are always technological improvements or preventative safety features and signs in the roads, a lot of it comes down to human behavior,” Eisenberg says. “It’s hard to change that, but to the extent that we can, that would probably avoid crashes.”

It’s good advice to keep in mind. While you might not be able to limit all this winter’s driving to Tuesdays at 5 a.m., you can do what the statistics recommend: wear a seatbelt, focus on the road and, above all, stay in control.

Hannah Elliot

Forbes.com

November 25, 2009

 

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