New Study: Traffic Fatalities Likely To Increase During Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always an enjoyable time as family and friends gather around to celebrate. There are football games (go Lions!) and the obligatory afternoon nap in the recliner following a plate of turkey. It’s a great holiday but new research suggests we need to be mindful if our Thanksgiving plans involve travel. Already this year, we have reported on the dangers of being on the road on certain holidays, and unfortunately, Thanksgiving is becoming more deadly.

Grim Forecasts

The National Safety Council estimates 421 people may be killed and another 48,500 seriously injured on the road this Thanksgiving season. The fatality estimate is seven percent higher than the average number of fatalities (393) that occurred during the previous six Thanksgiving holiday periods for which data is available. The American Automobile Association says more than 50 million people will travel over Thanksgiving weekend, which increases the risk of collisions and fatalities.

“Americans must employ those defensive driving skills we learn in driver’s ed classes: slow down, pay attention, and be prepared for anything,” said Maureen Vogel, Senior Public Relations Manager and Spokeswoman, National Safety Council. “Do not let your desire to get to your destination override safety.”

Sobering Realities

Not surprisingly, drunk driving accounts for more than one-third of Thanksgiving weekend fatalities. Thanksgiving Eve or “Blackout Wednesday” is of particular note, even being classified as a cultural phenomenon by the National Safety Council. In short, the night before Thanksgiving is ripe with excessive travel and alcohol consumption, and the combination is like oil and water.

“The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is as famous for its parties and celebrations as Thanksgiving is for its feasts,” Vogel explained. “In an era where alternative transportation options are prevalent, it is important for drivers to designate a sober, drug-free driver every time.”

The National Safety Council says more education and action is needed on the issue of impaired driving. The organization is optimistic but believes a grounded strategy in human behavior theory is necessary to change society’s outlook. For example, in the past year, and despite being over the legal limit (0.08), more than one in eight admitted to driving anyway. While the National Safety Council encourages states to institute sobriety checkpoints, require ignition interlocks for offenders, and revoke licenses, they also point out alcohol is not the lone culprit.

“People tend to think of only alcohol as impairing, but medications can be impairing too,” Vogel said. “Opioid-involved crashes have increased sevenfold in the last few years, and you never should drive while taking these medicines.”

In our report on the dangers of Halloween, Special First Lieutenant Jim Flegel, a Traffic Safety Specialist with the Michigan State Police said Michigan’s drunk driving incidents are decreasing. Drugged driving, however, continues to rise; even routine medications pose a hazard, something the average person is not likely to consider.

“We want to get the word out to not get behind the wheel when you are impaired on other drugs, which can include prescription medication,” he said. “Unfortunately, over this last year, drugged driving has seen a drastic increase.”

Tips & Advice

The data for Thanksgiving (and other holidays) shows an increasing potential for disaster, but we cannot live in a bubble either. If you and your family are traveling this holiday season, there are few precautions you can take – actually, they are good tactics to employ all year.

“Get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, always drive attentively, and never use a cell phone, even a hands-free device,” Vogel said. “The simplest is to ensure everyone is buckled up in every seating position, and children are restrained in safety seats that are appropriate for their height and weight.”

According to the Michigan State Police, traffic crashes are the primary killer of people under age 32, and take more young lives than all types of crime combined. Troopers say if parents would simply buckle up their kids would be more inclined to do the same.

Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan.  

Resources From The National Safety Council

Ensure your vehicle is properly maintained and take care of any open recalls.

Consider ways to encourage your teenage children to drive safely and responsibly.

Take a brief tutorial of your vehicle’s active safety features if it is equipped with them.

Safety Tips From Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Designate a sober driver.

Use a taxi or ride share service.

Plan ahead if your night includes alcohol.

Buckle up: This is the best defense against an impaired driver.

MADD Victim Services Hotline: 1-877-MADD-HELP (24 hours / 7 days a week).

Safety Tips From The Michigan State Police

Abide by all traffic laws and posted signs.

Pay attention behind the wheel at all times.

Remove all distractions in the car, including cell phones.

Drive with the headlights on at all times, even during the day.

Be mindful of your mood – your emotional state can alter your driving.

Avoid tailgating, the most common, preventable cause of traffic collisions.

Use special caution in areas marked with deer or other animal crossing signs.

Never drive more than 100 miles at a time – switch drivers even if you do not feel tired.

Always place infants in rear-facing child restraints in the back seat and secure with a safety belt.

Allow for plenty of time when crossing a street or intersection; use sidewalks whenever available and never cross the street mid-block.

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