Why Driving Over Thanksgiving Week Is Dangerous: Alabama Study

Thanksgiving week is a dangerous time to be on the road, although it is becoming safer.

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.

Researchers at the center, known as CAPS, analyzed Alabama and national fatal crash data during Thanksgiving week, defined as the Monday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday after it.

“With substantially increased traffic volume over a short period, this combination is a recipe for potential disaster,” said Dr. Allen Parrish, CAPS director and professor of computer science at The University of Alabama.

The study, designed to identify the reasons for the increase in fatal crashes during Thanksgiving week, was based primarily on 2011 traffic data from Alabama, but it also compared these results against the most recent data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The FARS data covered the six years from 2005-2010. The Alabama data considered all reported crashes within Alabama, while the FARS data contains all fatal crashes nationally. The research was done through UA-developed data-analysis software called Critical Analysis Reporting Environment, or CARE, used by researchers at CAPS.

“CARE enabled us to easily compare Thanksgiving week with every other week of the year and look at every attribute in the crash records, both in the Alabama and the FARS databases.” Parrish said.

Nationally, there was an average 748 fatalities per week during the six-year study, yet Thanksgiving week averaged 50 more fatalities, indicating that this is a relatively more dangerous time to be on the road, according to the FARS data. In Alabama, about 16 fatal crashes occurred in an average week in 2011, but during Thanksgiving there were 17 fatal crashes, according to traffic data.

As dangerous as it is, Thanksgiving week is becoming less deadly for drivers nationally. The FARS data showed that Thanksgiving week beat the national trend of overall fatality reductions. Between 2005 and 2010 crash fatalities fell 25 percent while the fatalities during Thanksgiving week dropped almost 31 percent.

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:

Parrish said there are tips to greatly increase the chances of a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday:

The www.SafeHomeAlabama.gov website provides a comprehensive view of all known organized traffic safety efforts in the state of Alabama.

Source: University of Alabama