A Deadly Memorial Day Combination: Youth, Speed and Alcohol

Henry Hoenig
· 4 min read
While Memorial Day weekend is a time of celebration for most Americans, marking the unofficial beginning of summer and peak road trip season, it's deadly for hundreds of people each year, with more than 400 people a year losing their lives over the past decade based on
's research.
Memday 23 Crashes Map 2 X

Key Insights

  • As defined by at least one driver testing positive on a blood-alcohol test, alcohol was involved in 61% of all fatal crashes during the Memorial Day holiday period in which a test was conducted, including 67% of deadly crashes in which the victims were 16-35 years old. When including crashes in which a blood-alcohol test wasn’t conducted, alcohol was involved in 33% of all fatal crashes. Tests were conducted in about half of all fatal crashes. 
  • Speeding was involved in nearly one third (31%) of fatal crashes, including more than half (52%) in which the victims were 16-35.
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of all victims were male, while males aged 16-35 accounted for nearly a third (32%) of all deaths.
  • The deadliest day of the weekend overall is Saturday, but Friday night sees the most fatalities per hour. The deadliest hours are between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m., with 2 a.m. Sunday ranking as the worst.
  • Texas
    has suffered the most Memorial Day traffic fatalities over the past decade by far, followed by
    . On a per capita basis,
    West Virginia
    South Dakota
    North Dakota
    saw the most deaths.
  • Two cities in Texas—Houston and Dallas—top the list of cities with the most traffic fatalities during the holiday period, followed by Chicago, Indianapolis and Los Angeles.
  • Nearly half (48%) of the fatal crashes nationwide took place in rural areas. More than half (55%) involved a vehicle leaving the roadway. Only 12% took place on an interstate highway.
The Memorial Day holiday is also known as the start of the  “
100 deadliest days
” for younger drivers, who are more frequently victims of fatal crashes during this period. Nearly a third of all fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during this 100-day period. And the numbers spike during the three big driving holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. 
Over Memorial Day, 16-35-year-olds accounted for 42% of fatalities over the past decade, due to a devastating combination of youthful abandon, alcohol and speeding. Crashes claiming the lives of young people were far more likely to involve alcohol—67% of those in which the victims were 16-35 years old, and in which a determination of alcohol involvement was made one way or the other. Speeding was a factor in 52% of fatal accidents in which the victims were aged 16-35.
Memday 23 Age Groups 2 X
The most fatalities typically occur on Saturday, starting in the hours after midnight Friday. Sunday ranks second, though one study found that the risk of being involved in a fatal crash was
highest on Mondays
. But when looking at the number of fatalities per hour, the deadliest day is Friday, likely because people are celebrating the beginning of the long weekend and hitting the road for their travel destinations. (For the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the holiday period begins at 6 p.m. Friday.)
Memday 23 Day Week 2 X
All but one of the 12 deadliest hours of the weekend fall between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m., hours where alcohol is more likely to be consumed. Not surprisingly, all of those 12 hours fall on either late Friday or Saturday, or just after midnight on those days, in the first few hours of Saturday or Sunday mornings. The single hour with the most traffic fatalities was 2 a.m. on Sundays, around the time bartenders around the country are ringing the bell for what will be the last call for many people that holiday weekend.
Memday 23 Hours 2 X
Though California is the most populous U.S. state, with a population about a third larger than Texas’s, Texas is the state that sees the most fatal traffic accidents during the Memorial Day holiday period, topping both California and Florida by a wide margin. Tennessee, ranked 15th by population, ranked 9th in fatal crashes. Illinois, ranked 6th in population, doesn’t rank among the 10 deadliest states.
States Memday 23 Totals 2 X
The 10 states with the most fatalities per capita are all located in the South or West, and all rank in the bottom half of states in population density. West Virginia sees the most fatal crashes per capita during the Memorial Day holiday period by far. The Dakotas, which both rank in the bottom five states in population density, rank second and third per capita.
States Memday 23 Percap 2 X
Car crazy and sprawling Houston, Texas, tops the list of cities with the most traffic fatalities during the holiday period, though it ranks only fourth nationwide in population. Two other Texas cities—Dallas and San Antonio—also rank among the 10 deadliest cities during the Memorial Day holiday. Memphis, number 29 in population, ranks 10th in fatal crashes over the holiday period.
Cities Memday 23 Totals 2 X
When looking at per capita traffic deaths by county, three Florida counties top the list among those with a population of more than 1 million. Most counties in the top 10 are in the South or the West. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina account for six of 10 deadliest large counties.
Bigcounties Memday 23 Percap 2 X
Counties in the South and West also dominate the list of 10 deadliest medium-sized counties on a per capita basis during the Memorial Day holiday period. St. Tammany Parish in the New Orleans area is the worst, followed by Merced County between Fresno and San Jose, California. Two counties in Oregon are on the list. (Note that the St. Louis area places one county on each of the lists of big and medium-sized counties.)
Medcounties Memday 23 Percap 2 X


Jerry used traffic fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the years 2012-2021 and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The NHTSA defines the Memorial Day holiday period as 6 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Tuesday.
For the purposes of this study, alcohol involvement means that alcohol was found in the bloodstream of at least one driver. A blood-alcohol test was conducted in about half of the fatal crashes.

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