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Thanksgiving Fatal Car Crash Analysis:

Wednesday (Not Friday) Is the Deadliest Day for Thanksgiving Drivers

Last Updated: 11/23/2022
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MoneyGeek’s analysis of the most dangerous days for DUIs in 2022 found that Thanksgiving had a 56% higher than average risk for DUI fatalities relative to seasonal and weekly trends. With the holiday approaching, MoneyGeek decided to explore where and when most deadly Thanksgiving car crashes — involving DUIs or not involving DUIs — tend to occur to help drivers stay safe.

Using traffic statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data set, MoneyGeek found that Thanksgiving car crash fatalities increased by 23% from 2019 to 2020 — the most recent year of available data — even amidst COVID-19 shutdowns. Here’s what else we found.

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Deadliest Days to Drive Around Thanksgiving

MoneyGeek analyzed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data from 2016 to 2020 to learn more about the car crash fatalities that occur the day before, the day of and the day after Thanksgiving.

We found that deadly car crashes peak the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, with 570 recorded from 2016–2020. The day after Thanksgiving is the next most fatal day with 559, while Thanksgiving itself had 545 total fatalities over this five-year period. However, Thanksgiving day had more DUI-related crash deaths than any of the three days we measured with 31% involving drunk driving, compared to 25% the day before and after.

Average Crash Fatalities Around Thanksgiving

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  • Day
    Total Fatalities (2016-2020)
    Average Fatalities
    % Related to Drunk-Driving
  • Before
    570
    114
    25%
  • Thanksgiving
    545
    109
    31%
  • After
    559
    112
    25%

Deadliest States for Thanksgiving Drivers

Breaking down the Thanksgiving traffic statistics by state, our study also ranked the deadliest states for drivers.

Montana came in at number one with 2.2 fatalities per one million residents the day before, the day of and the day after Thanksgiving.

Also in the top five were two southern states, Mississippi at 2.16 per one million residents and South Carolina at 2.07. Southern states occupied four out of the top ten worst states for car crash fatalities (six out of ten if you consider Missouri and Florida to be southern states). Our study also observed that western states rank particularly high, with Montana, Idaho and New Mexico also ranking in the top ten. Road deaths tend to be higher in states with lower population density and higher speed limits, which is true for both of these geographical regions.

States With the Most Traffic Fatalities During Thanksgiving Week

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  • State
    Average Fatalities per 1M Residents
  • 1.
    Montana
    2.2
  • 2.
    Mississippi
    2.2
  • 3.
    South Carolina
    2.1
  • 4.
    Idaho
    1.8
  • 5.
    New Mexico
    1.8
  • 6.
    Alabama
    1.8
  • 7.
    Missouri
    1.5
  • 8.
    North Carolina
    1.5
  • 9.
    Florida
    1.5
  • 10.
    Oklahoma
    1.5

States With the Biggest DUI Problem Around Thanksgiving

Crashes around holidays like Thanksgiving can also be influenced by alcohol since people often drink more at holiday celebrations than they might at other times. MoneyGeek calculated the percentage of total car crash deaths attributed to drunk driving to find the states where drunk driving caused the most fatalities on the road.

While Alaska only had one deadly crash around Thanksgiving, it was related to drunk driving, accounting for 100% of the auto-related deaths for that state. South Dakota came in second with 50% of its car crash fatalities linked to drunk driving; Iowa ranked third at 40%. For most states in the top ten, drunk driving caused around one-third of all traffic fatalities on the day before, of and after Thanksgiving.

States With the Most DUI-Related Deaths Around Thanksgiving

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  • State
    % Drunk Driving-Related Deaths
  • 1.
    Alaska
    100%
  • 2.
    South Dakota
    50%
  • 3.
    Iowa
    40%
  • 4.
    Arkansas
    35%
  • 5.
    Louisiana
    34%
  • 6.
    Delaware
    33%
  • 7.
    Missouri
    33%
  • 8.
    New Mexico
    32%
  • 9.
    Washington
    29%
  • 10.
    South Carolina
    26%

Deadliest Times to Drive Around Thanksgiving

For drivers hoping to find out the best times to stay off the road, when do the majority of car crashes during Thanksgiving week take place? Thanksgiving traffic statistics show that most crashes happen between 4–9 p.m.

On the day before Thanksgiving, 34.7% of the fatal crashes took place during this time period. This was also true for Thanksgiving day, with 33.3% of all car crashes occurring from 4 to 9 p.m., and for the day after as well.

Running a close second, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the evening contained the next highest number of car crashes, with 24.3% of car crashes happening at this time on the day before the holiday.

Total Crash Deaths by Time of Day

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  • Days
    6:00–10:59 a.m.
    11:00 a.m. – 3:59 p.m.
    4:00 – 8:59 p.m.
    9:00 p.m. – 1:59 a.m.
    2:00 a.m. – 5:59 a.m.
  • Non-Thanksgiving
    15.5%
    21.7%
    27.9%
    22.7%
    12.1%
  • Before
    13.2%
    19.7%
    34.7%
    24.3%
    8.1%
  • Thanksgiving
    11.6%
    18.8%
    33.3%
    25.7%
    10.7%
  • After
    13.7%
    19.9%
    32.1%
    23.6%
    10.6%
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CAR CRASHES ARE INCREASING YEAR-ROUND: AN EXPERT WEIGHS IN

The number of car crashes in general has increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic. Data for the first quarter of 2022 from the NHTSA show an increase of about 7% compared to the same period last year. This is the highest number of first quarter car crash fatalities since 2002.

So, what’s behind this increase? University of Maryland Baltimore County public policy professor John Rennie Short notes that the pandemic led to elevated levels of risky behavior such as drunk driving. “The pandemic created all sorts of social fallout, from increased depression to higher crime rates and more aggressive driving.” This has translated into higher rates of car crashes, and those numbers have not gone down.

Staying Safe on the Roads This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving ranks third on our list of 2022’s most dangerous days for DUIs, only falling behind New Year’s Eve and Independence Day. It's crucial that drivers on the road during these holidays do everything they can to keep themselves and others safe.

While it may seem harmless to enjoy a few drinks and then get behind the wheel, the real costs of driving under the influence are high. First-time offenders face fines of up to $25,000, possible imprisonment and driver’s license suspension. Driving under the influence isn't just illegal; as our data shows, it can significantly increase your chance of causing a deadly accident and harming yourself, your loved ones and others on the road.

Being involved in any car crash can have negative consequences, even if it doesn’t result in something as dire as a criminal charge or the loss of life; causing a collision will likely raise your auto insurance premium, putting the cheapest car insurance rates out of reach.

So, what can Americans do to stay safe on the roads during Thanksgiving this year? MoneyGeek compiled some tips to help keep you and your family safe while traveling this holiday.

  • This is an icon

    Avoid distractions

    A recent MoneyGeek study shows that most Americans drive while distracted. The biggest culprit is your cell phone: put it away while you’re on the road.

  • This is an icon

    Never drink and drive

    If you have to be on the roads after drinking, take a ride share service or use a designated driver instead of getting behind the wheel.

  • This is an icon

    Buckle up

    Make sure all passengers, including children, are safely buckled in and that car safety seats are properly installed, particularly in rental cars.

  • This is an icon

    Be aware

    Practice defensive driving and be on the lookout for careless drivers. At intersections, take an extra second to pause and make sure nobody is coming.

  • This is an icon

    Check the weather

    Look at predicted weather conditions ahead of time and make sure your car is up to date with routine service before venturing out. In poor weather conditions, good tires and brake systems are essential for drivers needing to react quickly to road hazards.

Expert Insights

MoneyGeek spoke with industry leaders and academics to provide expert insight on the rising rates of car crashes and what can be done to help bring these rates down and save lives.

  1. Why have car crash fatalities increased dramatically in 2020 from previous years?
  2. What could states with higher holiday-related traffic crashes do to improve their statistics?
  3. What caused higher traffic fatalities in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you see these numbers going down anytime soon?
  4. What are some strategies other countries have taken to reduce their car crash rates, and what could the United States learn from them?
John Rennie Short
John Rennie Short

Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

Kat Krieger
Kat Krieger

Chief Marketing Officer, Together for Safer Roads

Paul J. Fantuzzi
Paul J. Fantuzzi

Lecturer

Methodology

MoneyGeek analyzed the NHTSA's FARS data from 2016 to 2020 to learn more about car crash deaths the day before, the day of and the day after Thanksgiving. We aggregated car crash deaths for these three days by state, found the average number of fatalities for the five-year period measured and calculated the average number of fatalities per one million residents to rank the deadliest states for drivers.

We also calculated the percentage of total car crash deaths attributed to drunk driving to find the states where drunk driving causes the most deaths on the road. Additionally, we used this same data set to determine which states had the most car crash deaths around Thanksgiving overall.

If you have any questions about our findings or methodology, please reach out to Melody Kasulis via email at melody@moneygeek.com.

Full Data Set

The data points presented are defined as follows:

  • Rank: States were ranked by the number of car crash fatalities per one million residents, using a five-year average.
  • Total Crash Deaths (2016-2020): Total car crash deaths across five years on the day before, day of and day after Thanksgiving.
  • Annual Average Fatalities: Average number of car crash deaths annually from 2016 to 2020 on the day before, day of and day after Thanksgiving.
  • Average Fatalities per 1M Residents: Average annual fatalities per 1,000,000 residents from 2016 to 2020 on the day before, day of and day after Thanksgiving.
  • % Drunk Driving-Related Deaths: The percentage of car crash deaths attributed to drunk driving from 2016 to 2020 on the day before, day of and day after Thanksgiving.
Rank
State
Total Crash Deaths (2016-2020)
Annual Average Fatalities
Average Fatalities per 1M Residents
% Drunk Driving-Related Deaths

6

Alabama

45

9

1.8

24%

48

Alaska

1

0.2

0.3

100%

21

Arizona

40

8

1.1

20%

20

Arkansas

17

3.4

1.1

35%

24

California

201

40.2

1.0

22%

34

Colorado

21

4.2

0.7

19%

26

Connecticut

18

3.6

1.0

11%

16

Delaware

6

1.2

1.2

33%

9

Florida

158

31.6

1.5

10%

12

Georgia

73

14.6

1.4

8%

38

Hawaii

5

1

0.7

20%

4

Idaho

17

3.4

1.8

24%

36

Illinois

46

9.2

0.7

26%

22

Indiana

36

7.2

1.1

17%

27

Iowa

15

3

0.9

40%

18

Kansas

17

3.4

1.2

6%

33

Kentucky

18

3.6

0.8

6%

11

Louisiana

32

6.4

1.4

34%

14

Maine

9

1.8

1.3

22%

28

Maryland

28

5.6

0.9

14%

43

Massachusetts

18

3.6

0.5

11%

31

Michigan

41

8.2

0.8

15%

47

Minnesota

8

1.6

0.3

25%

2

Mississippi

32

6.4

2.2

22%

7

Missouri

46

9.2

1.5

33%

1

Montana

12

2.4

2.2

17%

37

Nebraska

7

1.4

0.7

0%

23

Nevada

16

3.2

1.0

19%

41

New Hampshire

4

0.8

0.6

0%

44

New Jersey

20

4

0.4

20%

5

New Mexico

19

3.8

1.8

32%

45

New York

42

8.4

0.4

2%

8

North Carolina

77

15.4

1.5

18%

42

North Dakota

2

0.4

0.5

0%

39

Ohio

39

7.8

0.7

21%

10

Oklahoma

29

5.8

1.5

10%

29

Oregon

19

3.8

0.9

16%

40

Pennsylvania

42

8.4

0.6

5%

49

Rhode Island

0

0

0.0

0%

3

South Carolina

53

10.6

2.1

26%

13

South Dakota

6

1.2

1.4

50%

15

Tennessee

44

8.8

1.3

20%

17

Texas

174

34.8

1.2

19%

30

Utah

14

2.8

0.9

21%

32

Virginia

35

7

0.8

17%

35

Washington

28

5.6

0.7

29%

25

West Virginia

9

1.8

1.0

11%

19

Wisconsin

34

6.8

1.2

18%

46

Wyoming

1

0.2

0.3

0%

About the Author


expert-profile

Rachel Newcomb is an award-winning writer, storyteller and professor of anthropology at Rollins College. She has over two decades of experience conducting research internationally and domestically and has published books about women's rights, migration and globalization in Morocco.


sources