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[Study] Thanksgiving Holiday Fatal Crashes: 2014-2018

November 20, 2019 |

Thanksgiving Day Fatals
Nearly 50 million Americans will be hitting the road for trips of 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving.  When motor vehicle traffic spikes so significantly, do fatal crashes increase as well?

At Cannon & Dunphy S.C., we wanted to find out.  We worked with the data visualization and consumer safety advocacy organization Safer America to examine the last five years of fatal crash data from the NHTSA (2014 – 2018).  We identified every crash that occurred during the Thanksgiving Holiday period and compared it to the five year total.

We found that, from 2014 – 2018, there was a 20 percent increase in fatal crashes during Thanksgiving when compared to a typical day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, alcohol-related fatal crashes increased as well, with a 29 percent spike during the holiday period.

Thanksgiving Crashes by the Numbers:

We defined the Thanksgiving Holiday period as 12 pm on the day Wednesday before Thanksgiving through 11:59 pm Sunday, four and a half days (102 hours) in total for each year.  During this time there were:

  • 2,308 fatal crashes
  • 2,560 fatalities
  • 659 alcohol-related crashes
  • 765 alcohol-related fatalities

By year, 2018 had the fewest Thanksgiving fatal crashes, fatalities and alcohol-related fatal crashes of the last five years:

Year Fatal Crashes Fatalities Alcohol-Related Crashes
2018 429 466 117
2017 516 578 142
2016 473 515 134
2015 430 483 119
2014 460 518 147

Thanksgiving Holiday Fatal Crash Risk by State

The map below shows which states have the highest percentage increase of fatal crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period, as compared to the daily average for that state. The darkest shade of blue identifies a region where the fatal crash risk is lowest while the darkest shade of red indicates a higher crash risk based on past data.  The map is interactive, so feel free to hover over any state on the map for additional information.

This table shows the number of fatal crashes and fatalities that occurred in each state during our defined Thanksgiving Holiday period.  The ‘Increase or Decrease’ column shows the increase or decrease in fatal crashes during this period as compared to a typical day from 2014-2018.  States are ranked by the size of this increase.  Maine, ranked number one, saw the largest fatal crash increase of (over 110 percent) during the Thanksgiving period.  Twelve states experienced a decrease in fatal crashes, led by Wyoming with a decrease of 54 percent.

Rank State Fatal Crashes Fatalites Increase or Decrease
1 Maine 17 18 110.53%
2 Rhode Island 6 6 88.24%
3 Missouri 78 86 63.87%
4 New Hampshire 10 10 55.86%
5 North Carolina 114 133 51.97%
6 Alaska 6 6 48.61%
7 Oregon 34 38 44.14%
8 Kansas 30 35 41.18%
9 South Dakota 9 12 36.62%
10 Mississippi 47 51 35.69%
11 District Of Columbia 2 2 34.45%
11 Nebraska 16 17 34.45%
13 Utah 19 26 33.45%
14 Arizona 65 76 32.42%
15 Texas 252 276 31.47%
16 California 246 274 31.4%
17 Maryland 36 36 30.32%
18 New Jersey 41 45 28.63%
19 Louisiana 52 59 28.12%
20 Illinois 70 76 27.68%
21 Massachusetts 25 26 26.5%
22 Vermont 4 5 25.49%
23 Wisconsin 38 42 25.05%
24 Montana 13 17 24.85%
25 Florida 197 214 22.46%
26 Hawaii 7 7 22%
27 Oklahoma 43 46 21.9%
28 Idaho 14 17 15.58%
29 Washington 33 34 15.03%
30 New Mexico 22 25 13.77%
31 New York 64 68 13.65%
32 Michigan 59 60 11.5%
33 Alabama 55 67 11.08%
34 South Carolina 58 60 10.5%
35 Georgia 85 100 9.29%
36 Virginia 46 48 8.24%
37 Iowa 19 22 7.73%
38 Indiana 48 54 7.05%
39 Pennsylvania 67 75 5.1%
40 Ohio 58 68 -2.17%
41 Tennessee 51 59 -6.25%
42 Minnesota 19 19 -6.86%
43 Delaware 6 6 -8.92%
44 Arkansas 24 26 -12.45%
45 Kentucky 35 37 -12.85%
46 Colorado 26 28 -17.33%
47 North Dakota 5 5 -18.86%
48 West Virginia 12 13 -19.33%
49 Connecticut 11 12 -28.1%
50 Nevada 11 13 -35.29%
51 Wyoming 3 5 -54.46%

Thanksgiving: Drunk Drivers in Fatal Crashes

There was a demonstrated increase in alcohol related fatalities.  We found that 28 percent of all fatal crashes during the Thanksgiving Holiday period involving drunk drivers, up from 24 percent during the full five year study period.

The table below shows the number of fatal crashes involving drunk drivers and the percentage of all holiday period crashes for each state.

State Drunk Dr. Crashes Drunk Dr. Fatalities % Crashes Inv. Alcohol
Vermont 3 4 75%
North Dakota 3 3 60%
South Dakota 5 7 56%
Alaska 3 3 50%
Delaware 3 3 50%
Hawaii 3 3 43%
Louisiana 22 27 42%
Minnesota 8 8 42%
Arkansas 10 11 42%
New Mexico 9 12 41%
Colorado 10 11 38%
Ohio 22 23 38%
Nebraska 6 6 38%
Wisconsin 14 16 37%
South Carolina 21 22 36%
Virginia 16 17 35%
Illinois 24 26 34%
Rhode Island 2 2 33%
Washington 11 11 33%
Pennsylvania 22 25 33%
Michigan 19 20 32%
Iowa 6 7 32%
Utah 6 8 32%
Kentucky 11 11 31%
Tennessee 16 20 31%
Alabama 17 23 31%
Maryland 11 11 31%
New Hampshire 3 3 30%
Texas 73 86 29%
Massachusetts 7 7 28%
California 67 78 27%
Oregon 9 11 26%
North Carolina 30 37 26%
Arizona 17 24 26%
Missouri 20 25 26%
West Virginia 3 3 25%
Georgia 20 23 24%
Maine 4 4 24%
Mississippi 11 13 23%
Oklahoma 10 11 23%
Montana 3 3 23%
Indiana 11 15 23%
New Jersey 9 10 22%
Kansas 6 6 20%
New York 12 16 19%
Connecticut 2 2 18%
Nevada 2 2 18%
Florida 35 43 18%
Idaho 2 3 14%
District Of Columbia 0 0 0%
Wyoming 0 0 0%

Key Takeaways

It is clear that there is an increased risk of fatal crashes during the Thanksgiving Holiday.  So what can motorists do to protect themselves?

  • Most importantly, don’t drink and drive.  If you are planning on consuming alcohol, get a designated driver or get a sober ride home.
  • Rest up.  Drowsy driving contributes to thousands of crashes each year.  With the increase in traffic over Thanksgiving, being alert behind the wheel is incredibly important.
  • Inspect your vehicle.  Before you get on the road, make sure that your tires are properly inflated, fluids are topped off and brakes are working properly.
  • Don’t drive distracted.  Put the phone down, keep your eyes on the road and arrive alive at your destination.
  • Watch your speed.  Excessive speeding is a major factor in fatal crashes.
  • Drive defensively.  Expect the unexpected and be ready to adjust accordingly.

While there is a demonstrated heightened risk in being on the road during the holidays, the vast majority of travelers will make it to their destination safely.  Being aware of the danger can go a long way towards keeping yourself and your family safe on the roads.

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