Summer is often synonymous with long drives with the windows down and the radio up, but it isn’t all picturesque. Before you pack up the car and hit the road, you should know that summer is one of the most dangerous times of year to be driving. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), six of the 10 deadliest driving days occur in summer. More vehicles on the road mean a greater chance of an accident, and, according to data we analyzed, those accidents are increasing in severity. Bankrate dug into the data to help you understand why summer can be a dangerous driving season and learn how to decrease your chances of damage or injury.
The dangers of summer driving
Warmer weather typically means more drivers on the road, with LexisNexis reporting a peak in miles driven during May, June, July and August. Understandably, summer driving drastically declined in 2020, but it has since rebounded. It’s likely we’re back to the 2019 pre-pandemic levels, or at least close. In June, July and August of 2021, LexisNexis reported that driving behaviors were already up to between 94 percent and 96 percent of the 2019 levels.
The NHTSA confirms this data, noting that:
“According to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2021 increased by about 244 billion miles, an 11.7 percent increase from the same time period in 2020.”
Another factor to keep in mind this summer is the cost of a road trip. According to the auto club AAA, the national average for gas prices hit an all-time high (since data collection started in 2000) at over $5.00 per gallon on June 13. Unfortunately, prices don’t seem to be decreasing any time soon. As of June 27, California has the highest average price per gallon at $6.32, and Georgia has the lowest average price at $4.40 per gallon. The 40-year-high inflation we’re currently experiencing presents a danger to drivers’ budgets, but it does not seem to be curbing summer travel plans. Despite increased costs at the pump, Deloitte Insights reports that 46 percent of Americans are still planning to travel this summer.
And inflation is affecting far more than the cost of gasoline. With an overall inflation rate of 8.6 percent year over year, drivers can expect accidents to cost more should they need to file a claim. With summer 2022 expected to be a busy driving season, policyholders need to be cautious behind the wheel. Increased costs on top of an already dangerous time to be driving could be a recipe for pricey accidents.
Higher risk of tickets
More crowded roadways generally mean a greater chance of experiencing a driver practicing dangerous habits or getting into an accident. LexisNexis reports that speeding ticket violations — especially major ones — are increasing. Compared to 2019 and 2020, major speeding tickets began to increase in May 2020 and stayed elevated through June 2021, the most recent data available. And it isn’t just other drivers you have to worry about. Your own speeding habits can put you in danger behind the wheel and increase your insurance rates. Bankrate found that a single speeding ticket conviction increased average full coverage premiums by 21 percent per year.
Higher risk of accidents
Speeding isn’t the only issue on the rise. LexisNexis also reports that the severity of property damage claims — the claims you file for causing damage to another person’s property — began to rise in April 2021 and peaked in September 2021. Similarly, collision claims severity in 2021 began to trend upward in April and peaked in August. This means that summer months are at an increased risk for crashes in general, and those crashes are getting more severe. Causing an accident is even worse for your car insurance rates than being convicted of speeding, based on our assessment of premium data. An at-fault accident can increase your full coverage premium by an average increase of 42 percent per year.
According to the NHTSA, six of the 10 deadliest driving days occur in the summer months. July 4 and July 3 hold the top two spots. The data was from a lengthy period, between 1975 and 2002. However, shifting driving patterns in the interim may have changed the deadliest days to drive, so drivers should always take precautions to stay safe.
Preparing for summer travel
If you’re taking a road trip this summer or just hitting the road for daily travel, here are some things to keep in mind.
Know the risks on your route
Whether you’re planning a road trip or driving to and from work, know your route and the unique risks it poses. For example, during daily travel, maybe there is an intersection known for accidents or a particularly congested stretch of road. Avoiding these areas, if possible, could lessen your risk for damage.
If you’re traveling this summer, knowing the risks of your route requires a little more research, especially if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before. One of the easiest precautions you can take is to check the weather before heading out. If a storm is coming, you may be able to alter your route or delay your trip to let it pass. If you have comprehensive coverage on your vehicle, things like hail damage and flood damage to your vehicle would be covered, but avoiding the storm in the first place is still your best option.
You could also use Google Earth to get the lay of the land or talk to people who have been to your destination before. Knowing where a few service centers are in case of vehicle troubles and where you plan to stop for gas could also be useful. Apps like Waze or Scout GPS that provide real-time information about traffic hazards and detours, which could also help keep you out of heavily congested areas where accidents are more likely, may be worth considering. Just make sure someone else in your car can navigate for you; using your cell phone while driving is one of the riskiest driving behaviors and is illegal in some states.
Maintain your vehicle
Maintaining your vehicle may help lower your accident risk. Bad brakes or old tires, for example, might mean you can’t stop in time to avoid hitting another vehicle, and damaged windshield wipers could impair your vision in inclement weather. Vehicle maintenance is important for all cars, but if you have a vehicle that you store over the winter, making sure it’s in good shape for the summer season is also important.
Several things can happen to your vehicle while it’s stored. Maybe the tires need a bit of air or the brakes need to be checked and possibly replaced. It’s also not uncommon for animals to nest inside stored vehicles, causing damage to wiring or even the engine itself. Even if you drive your car daily, staying on top of maintenance is one of the easiest ways to keep yourself safe on the road.
Check your car insurance coverage
If your vehicle is properly maintained and you’ve researched the driving conditions along your route, you might think you’re ready to hit the road. You’re still missing one key step, though: checking your car insurance coverage.
- Was your vehicle stored over the winter? If you own a classic, antique or sports car, or any other vehicle you don’t drive in the cooler months, you may have “storage insurance” on your vehicle over the winter. Essentially this means that you removed all your coverage except comprehensive, so your vehicle is only covered for things that would happen while it’s sitting. You must contact your insurer to add your liability coverage before your vehicle is legal to drive on the road. If you had other coverage types on your policy before storing your vehicle, you’ll likely want to add those back, too. You could consider leaving a reminder note on the steering wheel to avoid accidentally driving the vehicle without proper coverage.
- Is your liability coverage sufficient? Low liability coverage limits might mean a cheaper premium, but they also risk higher out-of-pocket expenses if you cause an accident. With inflation making repairs and medical care more expensive, you might want to consider increasing your liability limits to reduce your risk of being underinsured.
- Do you need car rental coverage? If you take road trips often, you may want to consider having car rental coverage on your policy. It could help in the event that your vehicle is involved in an accident. If you cannot drive your vehicle after a covered loss, this endorsement could help cover the cost of a rental car.
- Do you need roadside assistance coverage? This is another commonly-offered endorsement that can come in handy, especially on road trips. Although coverage varies by the insurance company, roadside assistance coverage usually pays for towing and other service calls, like a locksmith or for someone to help you change a flat tire.
- Are you driving a rental vehicle? Some road trippers rent a vehicle for summer travel, and that comes with its own set of considerations. If you have a full coverage car insurance policy, your coverage probably transfers to a rental car, but check with your agent to be sure. If you have a liability-only policy, don’t own a car insurance policy or you want a little more robust protection, you may consider purchasing the available coverage from the rental agency.
However, except for winter-storage vehicles, most car insurance experts agree that making coverage changes to your policy too often isn’t ideal. Instead of making seasonal changes to your policy, finding a coverage level that works for you year-round is generally better.
The bottom line
Summer is one of the most dangerous times to be on the road, with congested roadways causing increased accidents and tickets. This year is also primed for an increase in accident severity, with inflation increasing repair costs and driving behaviors likely back to their pre-pandemic levels. But this doesn’t mean you have to stay home all summer. By researching the risks of your area or travel route and maintaining your vehicle, you can lessen your risk of damage. Preparing your car insurance for summer travel can also help create a financial safety net if the worst happens.