The Deadliest Day?

This week, AAA predicts that 41 million Americans will venture 50+ miles from home for the Independence Day holiday weekend, with more than 80% of these travelers doing so by car -- the highest number since 2007. While in many respects this may be good news -- a boon for travel and tourism industries, and a sign of economic recovery -- a AAA Foundation analysis of 10 years of crash data found that July 4th ranks as the deadliest day of the year on the roads, with more than 40 percent of fatalities due to drunk driving.

There is a twist, however. Day of the week affects traffic crashes and fatalities much more than specific dates do, with any given Saturday or Sunday generally deadlier than a major holiday that falls on, say, a Wednesday. For example, in 2006, when July 4 fell on a Tuesday, it was the 94th deadliest day of the year -- behind every other weekend in June, July, and August. It's only when you look at years of data that account for dates falling on each day of the week that July 4 emerges as the deadliest over time. 

Given that Independence Day falls on a Friday this year and creates a long holiday weekend, we have great reason to be concerned. Friday, July 4, 2008 saw 80 alcohol-involved traffic fatalities, making it the 22nd deadliest day that year, and Saturday, July 4, 2009 had 90, making it the 2nd deadliest day, behind only the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.    

Sadly, our latest Traffic Safety Culture Index found that many drivers continue to hold a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude about impaired driving. While 96% of American drivers believe it’s unacceptable for someone to drive when they believe they’ve had too much to drink, and 52% of Americans believe drunk driving is a bigger issue today than it was three years ago, 1 in 8 drivers admit to driving under the influence of alcohol, and 1 in 10 say they did so more than once in the past year. 

Troubling as this is, alcohol is not the only cause of impaired driving. Drugged driving is also a serious issue, though one about which there appears to be less public concern. 61% of surveyed drivers said that people driving after using illegal drugs were a very serious threat, and just 32% said this about prescription drugs. Marijuana, a major news item given recent pushes toward legalization in several jurisdictions, still seems to be considered a "gray area" by many drivers. Only 59% say they think marijuana increases crash risk, and more than 1 in 3 drivers who report using marijuana in the past year say they drove within an hour of doing so.

So, what are some things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones this weekend?Remember:

  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Period.
  • Never get into a vehicle with a driver you suspect has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Call 911 if you spot a motorist you believe may be under the influence. Actions such as drifting in and out of the lane, failing to maintain a consistent speed or disobeying traffic signs may all be indicators of an impaired driver.
  • Make transportation arrangements before heading out to events, and consider options like designated drivers, taxis, and public transit.
  • Take a look at the AAA Foundation’s Roadwise Rx tool ( to see what possible effects your prescriptions may have on driving (side effects as well as drug interactions).
  • Always buckle up!

Have a safe and Happy Fourth!