Speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, time of day and weather all contribute to more fatal crashes throughout the year, but they are exaggerated by the activity of Thanksgiving week because there are more parties, more vehicles on the road at night, more drivers on less-familiar roads, more tired drivers behind the wheel and more distracted drivers, according to a recent study of traffic data by The University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety.
Factors in Fatal Crashes
The CAPS study found the following reasons for the increase in fatal crashes during Thanksgiving week compared to other times of the year, as well as other correlating factors:
- Speed was the most overrepresented factor in all of the Alabama crashes regardless of severity, with it listed more than twice as much in crash data as the primary contributing circumstance than in weeks other than Thanksgiving.
- In Alabama, lighting conditions were a significant factor in fatal crashes, with nighttime crashes overrepresented. This is expected with the shorter days and the time change. However the extra days off from work during this week means increased nightlife and alcohol-influenced driving.
- The only significantly overrepresented traveling hours in the FARS data were from 5-7 p.m. with 20 percent more fatalities during this time of Thanksgiving week than the rest of the year. At this time of year these would typically not be daylight hours for most of the nation, confirming the Alabama results.
- Driving under the influence was more prevalent during Thanksgiving in Alabama last year, accounting for at least six of the 17 fatal crashes in the state. Of fatal crashes, 10 occurred during the long Wednesday through Sunday weekend, which is also indicative alcohol-influence driving as a cause.
- Tuesday was by far the worst day of the 2011 Thanksgiving week in Alabama, involving about 23 percent of the crashes. Weather also played a role with 67 percent of the crashes occurring in rain or on wet pavement. However, a comparison with the rain involvement on the Sunday following Thanksgiving showed the large number of crashes in Alabama on Tuesday was a combination of the weather and the larger than usual number of vehicles on the road.
- The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no more overrepresented than Monday in Alabama, confirming recent findings that Alabamians leave for their Thanksgiving travel much earlier in the week. However, the national data showed Wednesday to be significantly overrepresented, having more than 25 percent than the expected proportion of fatalities for that day.
- By far the best travel day in Alabama was Thanksgiving Day, when few travelers are on the road. However, the FARS data showed a significantly higher number of fatalities nationally during the 24 hours of Thanksgiving Day. A further analysis of these fatalities showed that 30 percent of them occurred during the early morning hours, a strong indication that DUI may have played a part in many, if not most, of these before-daylight crashes.
- As for location, the rural areas of those counties that have major metropolitan areas in Alabama tended to be the places where drivers should be most cautious during the Thanksgiving week.
- The most critical times and locations in Alabama are highly correlated with deer strikes, which occurred during the Thanksgiving week at a proportion of about 25 percent more than other weeks. Deer become quite nocturnal under hunting pressure this time of year in Alabama, which could account for the uptick in deer-related crashes.
- Although drivers ages 16-25 followed their typical pattern of causing more than twice their expected proportion of crashes as older drivers, unexpectedly 19-year-olds were significantly over-represented, causing close to 5 percent of all crashes during Thanksgiving week. The FARS data showed a proportionately high number of 20- and 21-year-olds killed, accounting for about 7 percent of all fatalities during Thanksgiving week nationally.
- The FARS data also showed Thanksgiving week to be a relatively bad time for pedestrians, with a statistically significant 11 percent more fatalities than other weeks, a result that was not reflected in Alabama perhaps due to its more rural nature.