Whether you're driving alone late at night or picking the kids up from school, you've likely seen unsettling driving behavior that's made you wonder: "Am I sharing the road with a drunk driver?" Certain days are significantly more dangerous on the roads than the rest of the year.
MoneyGeek analyzed historical data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to forecast 2020s most dangerous days, weeks and holidays for drunk driving in the United States.
"While progress has been made, drunk driving remains the number one killer on our roadways claiming over 10,500 people's lives each year and injuring over 300,000 people each year," says Heather Geronemus, the national chairwoman of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Knowing when people are likely to drink and drive can help you make safer decisions for yourself and your family, and remind you and those you love to take steps to avoid drinking and driving.
DUI Fatalities by Season
Drunk driving incidents never really take a hiatus, but certain seasons bring out more than the usual amount of intoxicated drivers. If you want to steer clear of people driving under the influence, the summer is the worst time to drive. According to MoneyGeek's analysis, 28% of DUI-related deaths are projected to happen in the summer of 2020.
Spring is close behind summer when it comes to the number of DUI fatalities per season, though, coming in with 26.20%. Fall has almost a quarter of DUI incidents — 24.60%. Winter presents its own seasonal dangers on the road, but you’ll still need to avoid drunk drivers during this chilly time of year. At 21.21%, winter is the least likely season to be involved in a DUI-related fatal accident.
Most Dangerous Holidays for DUI
The next time someone warns you to be careful driving on New Year's Eve, don't roll your eyes. Heed their warning. New Year's Eve is the deadliest night of the year when it comes to drunk driving.
The odds that somebody will be drunk behind the wheel and cause a fatal accident on New Year's Eve is 232% spike in fatalities relative to the seasonal trend and day of the week where it falls. Unlike other holidays where the celebrations may occur over a period of days, New Year’s is one night and many folks get the next day off to boot.
Independence Day is in second place, but far off in the distance compared to New Year's Eve. Your risk of encountering drunk drivers on the Fourth of July is 134% over the trend.
Apparently, a lot of people like to have a drink (or two or three) with their turkey dinners, because Thanksgiving is the third most dangerous holiday, with a risk 89% higher than the trend. Maybe some people feel the need to drink after being cooped up with their relatives. You'll want to be on guard if you're driving back home on Thanksgiving night after spending the day with family and friends.
Labor Day comes in fourth place (74%), and Memorial Day is the fifth most dangerous holiday for drunk driving, with a risk 57% higher than average. Since many people tend to stay put on Christmas Day, the risk of encountering a drunk driver goes down to a 12% higher risk than average.
The least dangerous holidays are Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Drunk drivers are 9% less likely to be out on the roads on November 11.
Despite its reputation, St. Patrick's Day is far from the most dangerous holiday for DUI accidents. The likelihood of a fatal DUI is up 14%, which makes it only the seventh riskiest holiday — somewhat more so than Christmas Day.
Most Dangerous Days of the Week for DUI
Analysis of DUI fatalities that occurred between 2014 and 2018 shows that the most dangerous day of the week to drive in 2020 is Saturday, with Sundays being close behind. Tuesday is the day of the week when the least amount of drunk drivers tend to be on the road.
Of all the DUI-related accidents occurring in any given week, 22.67% are predicted to occur on Saturday and 21.08% on Sunday. One reason Sunday appears so deadly is that many DUI-related accidents happen after midnight. Your likelihood of encountering a drunk driver, depending on the day of the week, is as follows:
Most Dangerous Weeks of the Year
The most dangerous week of 2020 will start on Monday, June 29. Independence Day falls on a Saturday at the end of that week. Between those two days, throughout the week, DUI accidents are expected to rise. People are taking off work, going on vacations, attending barbecues, visiting beaches and unwinding in general. The data shows that some of those people will get behind the wheel after drinking too much.
The second most dangerous week in 2020 for drunk driving surrounds May 25, Memorial Day, and you’ll want to be on high alert if you’re driving at night.
The week surrounding Labor Day, which falls on September 7, is estimated to be the third deadliest of the year when it comes to drunk driving.
Ways to Stay Safe on the Road During the Holidays
There’s only so much you can do, of course, to protect yourself from a drunk driver. It isn’t practical to only drive on Tuesdays, for instance, but if you don’t need to be out late on holiday, there may be something to be said for not going out. Still, there are some strategies you can employ to stay safe on the road.
Have a designated driver
If you’re drinking with friends, make sure whoever is behind the wheel hasn’t been drinking.
Have a return home plan
If everybody you are with will be drinking, and there is no designated driver, know ahead of time who you’ll be calling for a ride home, whether that’s a family member or an Uber driver.
Make sure you’re strapped in
Good advice for anybody in a car, any time, of course, whether you encounter a drunk driver or not. But MADD’s Geronemus counsels, “The best defense against drunk drivers is to always wear your seatbelt and make sure children are properly restrained.”
Drive without distractions
It doesn’t matter if you’re sober. If you’re driving — especially at night — stay off the phone and keep your eyes on the road. Distracted driving rivals drunk driving for dangerous behaviors on the road. Unfortunately, there often isn’t much you can do if a drunk driver careens toward your car, but being alert could make all the difference in surviving an encounter with a drunk driver.
Consequences of Getting a DUI
Heather Geronemus has become an expert on the consequences of drunk driving from the victim’s side. In 2009, her father, Dr. Robert Geronemus, a prominent kidney specialist in Fort Lauderdale, was leaving a medical conference dinner in downtown Miami as a pedestrian when he was struck by a car that went through a red light.
“First, it's most important to think about what DUIs cost families,” she says. “For a victim like me, you cannot put a price on a lifetime of memories that you will never make with a loved one.”
But there is definitely a monetary cost, Geronemus says. “From a financial perspective, it’s most important to understand what DUIs cost society. Estimates show that drunk driving costs our nation over $130 billion per year. Much of these costs are borne by taxpayers, not the drunk driver. This issue affects us all and it makes financial sense to try to eliminate drunk driving.”
And what’s the real financial cost for somebody who gets pulled over for driving while intoxicated? It’s not pretty.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates a first time drunk driver can pay as much as $10,000 in fines, legal fees, and higher insurance costs,” Geronemus says.
If you’re ever at a point where you’ve done some drinking but don’t feel drunk, and you’re tempted to save a little money and not call an Uber, you should rethink that decision. The short-terms cost of a ride home could save you thousands in complications related to a DUI and save lives.
An End to Drunk Driving
Heather Geronemus says that someday, the number of drunk driving accidents is bound to go down. Not soon enough, of course.
“MADD believes that technology will ultimately solve the problem of drunk driving. We are working on Capitol Hill to support legislation such as the RIDE Act and HALT Act, which would direct the Department of Transportation to require new cars to have advanced technology to detect and stop drunk drivers.”
Geronemus adds: “The technology would be passive, so the driver wouldn’t know it’s in the car unless he or she were impaired.”
But until that happens, driving defensively and never drinking and driving can help keep you and other drivers on the road safe.
MoneyGeek analyzed the five most recent years of DUI Crash Fatalities from the NHTSA FARS database from 2014 to 2018. A Bayesian time series forecasting model was utilized to project the 2020 DUI fatalities by day. The forecast model was fit using a multiplicative model (the components are multiplied together) using day of the week, day of the year, U.S. holidays and trend line components.
Geoff Williams has been a freelance journalist since the 1990s, mostly specializing in personal finance and small business issues. Over the years, his articles have appeared in CNNMoney.com, Consumer Reports, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, LIFE, Ladies’ Home Journal, Forbes.com and with American Express Business Trends and Insights. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America."
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his rarely used Twitter page.
US Dept of Transportation. “Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST).” Accessed February 28, 2020.