The risk of getting into an accident is exponentially higher on holidays than on regular days. Data shows that the week between Christmas and New Years is often the deadliest for drivers, followed by Thanksgiving. Alcohol is one of the main factors in holiday car accidents, but so is speeding, inclement weather and distracted driving.
In addition, drivers are more likely to get into accidents on certain days and at particular times. Most accidents occur on the weekend in the late night and early morning hours. Fortunately, there are ways that drivers can keep themselves and others safe when driving on holidays and at peak accident times.
Holiday driving statistics
Driving on a major holiday comes with added risk. Here are a few holiday accident statistics you should know before you start your travels:
- 1,087 people died in a car accident between Christmas and New Years in 2019 (U.S. Department of Transportation)
- 194 people were killed in car accidents around the Fourth of July in 2019 (U.S. Department of Transportation)
- An estimated 384 drivers could die during the New Years holiday period in 2021 (National Safety Council)
Most dangerous holidays for driving
Data proves that driving on holidays is more dangerous than driving on regular days. In 2019, there were an average of 102 traffic fatalities each day on U.S roads. But on six major holidays, the average number of deaths increased to 119 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Every holiday has a different level of risk based on historical traffic accident data. Here are some of the most dangerous holidays for driving, based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation:
- Christmas to New Years: Historically, the 8.5 to 11.5 days between Christmas and New Years is the deadliest period for drivers in the United States. Specifically, this includes the week between December 24 and January 2. In 2018, there were a total of 1,087 traffic fatalities during this period.
- Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is the second deadliest holiday for drivers. In 2018, 513 Americans were killed in car accidents during the 4.5 days around Thanksgiving. Research also shows that Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days for car travel, making the risk for an accident much higher than on a regular day.
- Labor Day: The U.S. Department of Transportation found that 414 people were killed in the 3.5 days around Labor Day in 2018. Data also shows that traffic fatalities on Labor Day accounted for more than 10% of the total traffic fatalities recorded in September of 2018.
- Fourth of July: 194 people were killed in traffic accidents around the Fourth of July in 2018, which is also one of the most common days for DUI arrests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) finds that between 2014 and 2018, 812 drivers were killed in accidents involving drunk drivers during the Fourth of July period.
Why are the holidays so deadly?
There are a few reasons why driving on holidays is more deadly than driving on regular days. Arguably, the most significant factor is alcohol consumption. Drivers are much more likely to drive after drinking alcohol on holidays, where alcohol is often present. The NHTSA found that roughly one-third of all traffic fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers.
Another factor is that many people travel by car around the holidays to visit family and friends, take vacations and attend parties. For decades, data has shown that driving is the least safe method of transportation. Unlike traveling by plane or train, driving far distances around the holidays when roads are more congested increases the chance for a serious accident.
As more people hit the road, the risk of other dangerous driving habits increases, particularly distracted driving. More drivers are texting, eating behind the wheel, driving without adequate sleep and driving with many passengers, all of which can make the risk of an accident more likely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, in 2018, more than 2,800 people were killed in an accident involving a distracted driver.
Most dangerous times for driving
The most dangerous day to drive is on Friday between 3 p.m. and 5:59 p.m., based on data from the NHTSA. The agency reports that there were 303,000 total crashes reported on this day and during this time in 2019.
In the table below, we included a breakdown of the number of total crashes on each day of the week, and for every time window:
|12 a.m. to 2:59 a.m.||69,000||29,000||24,000||31,000||25,000||33,000||58,000|
|3 a.m. to 5:59 a.m.||43,000||35,000||30,000||31,000||29,000||34,000||38,000|
|6 a.m. to 8:59 a.m.||46,000||163,000||180,000||174,000||162,000||146,000||65,000|
|9 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.||84,000||131,000||139,000||150,000||138,000||143,000||126,000|
|12 p.m. to 2:59 p.m.||132,000||174,000||180,000||178,000||179,000||217,000||164,000|
|3 p.m. to 5:59 p.m.||135,000||259,000||278,000||266,000||271,000||303,000||153,000|
|6 p.m. to 8:59 p.m.||117,000||131,000||136,000||141,000||143,000||178,000||137,000|
|9 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.||67,000||53,000||62,000||70,000||75,000||97,000||105,000|
One of the reasons why car accidents are so common on Friday in the late afternoon and early evening is because there is a high volume of drivers on the road. People are commuting home from work, and many others are traveling to start their weekend plans.
However, the highest number of fatal accidents occurs on Saturday between 9 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. This is also the period when DUI arrests are likely to happen. In the table below, you can see the number of fatal accidents that occur on each day and for each period:
|12 a.m. to 2:59 a.m.||940||362||311||330||340||476||802|
|3 a.m. to 5:59 a.m.||545||327||327||318||348||355||525|
|6 a.m. to 8:59 a.m.||344||518||507||502||521||545||406|
|9 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.||401||455||450||471||418||477||466|
|12 p.m. to 2:59 p.m.||610||630||636||569||591||661||618|
|3 p.m. to 5:59 p.m.||720||730||731||694||736||843||763|
|6 p.m. to 8:59 p.m.||831||679||722||724||760||928||980|
|9 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.||661||614||564||582||698||928||1,005|
Weekend car accidents
The chance of getting into a fatal car accident is statistically higher on the weekends, specifically on Saturdays. In 2018, there were 5,794 fatal crashes reported on Saturday across the United States. There were 5,053 crashes on Sunday, slightly less than Friday, which saw 5,169 fatal accidents. Car accidents on the weekends are most likely to occur during the late evening and early morning hours.
Staying safe during holidays
Although driving during the holidays is inherently risky, there are ways you can stay safe. Here are some suggestions:
- Never drink and drive: Alcohol is more present around the holidays, so if you plan to drink, always make sure you have a designated driver and never get behind the wheel after you have been drinking.
- Stay off the road during peak travel times: Plan your travels for days and times where the road is less congested. The least busy times are typically the weekdays between Monday and Thursday in the early morning hours.
- Consider alternative modes of transportation: Flying is a much safer form of travel, and you do not have to worry about other drivers and the potential for accidents. If you are planning a long road trip around the holidays, consider flying or taking the train instead.
- Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage: If you get into an accident while traveling during the holidays, your car insurance company will probably cover it. However, it is a good idea to check your coverage before you leave and consider raising your policy limits if you are concerned about the increased risk of accidents.