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A Look at Holiday Drinking and Driving

— September 21, 2021

What are the most dangerous holidays for car accidents related to drinking and driving?

There are usually more fatal car accidents on holiday weekends than in typical three-day periods, according to studies like those by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These are largely attributed to drinking and driving.

Holiday Parties and Alcohol

Some of the deadliest holidays are Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July. Even Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day weekends experience a higher than average number of fatal crashes.

A primary cause of the increase is that people often drink more than usual over the holidays, plus there are typically more people on the road around these celebrations.

This is a deadly combination. On most days, only about 25% of car crash fatalities involve alcohol. Over holidays, the number of alcohol-related deadly wrecks rises to an average of almost 33%. Thankfully, these trends are generally decreasing for most holidays. For example, the number of alcohol-related vehicle crash fatalities on Labor Day decreased by almost 28% between 2013 and 2017. On Memorial Day, they decreased by nearly 10%

Unfortunately, the number of fatal accidents involving alcohol has risen dramatically for several holidays, including Christmas and New Year’s. The cause of these changes isn’t completely clear.

It could indicate that Americans have started drinking more on Christmas and New Year’s. However, the change might also be due to which day of the week these specific holidays fell on each year, since there are typically fewer fatal crashes in the middle of the week than on weekends.

Holiday Crashes: Where? When? Who?

On a typical day, northeastern cities like New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia experience more fatal car accidents than other areas of the country. However, this usually changes around the holidays, when wrecks are typically more widespread.

Independence Day is dangerous across the country, but other holidays see
spikes of crashes in specific cities.

For example, Houston is one of the deadliest cities for drivers on Memorial Day weekend and New Year’s. San Antonio is the deadliest on Christmas. Los Angeles is the most dangerous city over the weekends of Labor Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving.

These statistics aren’t necessarily tied to the regions’ rates of alcohol consumption. For instance, New Hampshire has the highest rate of alcohol consumption per capita in the country, but the state also has the fewest number of fatalities per capita in holiday-related crashes involving alcohol. Other northeastern states like New York, Delaware, and Massachusetts are among the states with the fewest number of drunk driving-related fatalities over the holidays.

A possible explanation for the data on holiday-related wrecks is that it might indicate how people in each of these cities typically celebrate these holidays. Alternatively, it might show how likely it is that people in these cities need to drive after drinking on holidays.

Why Do Crashes Spike During Holidays?

Beyond excess drinking, many other factors might contribute to the high number of fatal crashes during holiday periods. During the winter months, holiday drivers often encounter dangerous weather conditions like snow, ice, fog, rain, and poor visibility, in addition to having to deal with more traffic and possibly drunk drivers on the roads.

Holidays are also incredibly stressful for many people who might have to celebrate all alone, host a large gathering, or travel to see family and friends that they don’t get along with. This stress can lead people to overeat and drink too much, plus it can cause medical conditions that endanger people on the road. For example, more people have heart attacks on Christmas Day than on any other day of the year, according to the American Heart Association.

People who suffer from known medical conditions may take prescription medications that can introduce added dangers if they drink during the holidays. Some drugs have increased side effects when they’re combined with alcohol. Even if the person’s BAC is under the legal limit, they might have trouble focusing, reacting, staying awake, and driving safely due to the interaction between their medicine and their holiday drink.

Christmas gifts in bags and boxes piled high near a festively decorated Christmas tree.
Public domain photo courtesy of CC0

With these holidays falling around the end of the year, many people also face several stressors like pressure to buy everyone the perfect gifts or work projects that they must finish before vacation. Under multiple pressures during the holidays, people might not only drive under the influence but also feel like they must drive over the speed limit in order to get everything done on time.

Some Holidays Are Safer Than Others

Although there are typically more fatal car crashes on any holiday than on a typical day of the year, some holidays are much safer than others. The safest holiday is typically Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is likely due to the fact that the holiday falls on a Monday in January, plus it’s primarily focused on remembering a fallen hero.

The other holidays that top the list in terms of safety might surprise you. New Year’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and St. Patrick’s Day see some of the fewest alcohol-related fatal crashes of any of the holidays that Americans celebrate. While people still drink during many of these celebrations, they might drink less because some of these holidays often fall on workdays.

Additionally, there typically aren’t as many people on the road during these holidays since most people don’t travel home for these celebrations. They’re more likely to celebrate locally, where they can usually catch a ride to their house instead of having to drive a long way to get home.

How to Make the Holiday Road Safer

Holidays are some of the most dangerous times on the road, but there are some basic safety tips drivers can follow to help prevent these celebrations from becoming more deadly each year.

  • Before you leave home to go to a holiday celebration, designate a sober driver or schedule a taxi to pick you up after the party.
  • If you drink too much, ask a friend to take you home or call a taxi or rideshare service instead of driving drunk.
  • Plan your trip so you have plenty of time to drive to your destination and won’t feel pressured to speed.
  • Try to avoid traveling at peak times.
  • If another person is driving recklessly, avoid acting aggressively in response. Move out of the way and take deep breaths to reduce the chance of getting into an accident.
  • Get a good night’s rest before you start a long road trip.
  • Check your car before you get on the road to ensure the tires, fluids, brakes, and other essential parts are in good working order.
If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of the year, but you don’t have to face this alone. There are multiple resources to help you get on the road to recovery, including and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).  This is a free and confidential service that’s available 24/7, 365 days a year.

LegalReader thanks our friends at Stokes Stemle for permission to republish this article. The original is found here.

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