California, Texas, and Florida saw the most fatal traffic crashes during the 4th of July holiday period over the past 14 years, while Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina experienced the most per capita.
On July 4th, the fatal crash rate is nearly 30% higher than on non-holidays.
More than half of fatal crashes over the 4th of July holiday period — 55% — involved speeding or drunk driving, and 17% involved both. 32% percent involved speeding but not drunk driving, and 39% drunk driving but not speeding.
Per capita, Wyoming had the highest rates of both speeding- and drunk driving-related fatal crashes.
The day of July 4th saw an average of 120 fatal crashes over the past 14 years, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is almost 30% higher than the rate for non-holiday periods.
California, Texas, and Florida, the three most populous states in the U.S., saw the highest total number of deaths during the holiday period, July 1-8.
However, taking the states’ populations into account changes the numbers: the three states with the highest death toll per capita were Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
Speeding or Drunk Driving Cited in More Than Half of Fatal Crashes
In total, there were 5,704 fatal crashes during the July 4 holiday period over the past 14 years and drunk driving and speeding clearly played roles.
While drunk driving accounted for less than 20% of all traffic deaths between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the holiday period, such fatalities rose through the night and into the early morning, peaking at 65% of fatal crashes between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Those involving speeding followed a similar pattern, peaking at 47% between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. This corresponds with many celebrations wrapping up and drivers heading out onto dark roads.
The rate of fatal crashes on July 4th also rose steadily throughout the day, peaking a bit earlier, at 9-10 p.m.
The lowest rates of both speeding and drunk driving fatalities on July 4th were seen from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. With 4th of July celebrations usually taking place in the afternoons and evenings, there were likely fewer drivers — and fewer drunk drivers — on the road at this hour.
In Wyoming, highest death rates from speeding and drunk driving
Wyoming experienced the most fatalities involving both drunk driving- and speeding-related crashes, with about 2.4 fatal crashes involving drunk driving and 1.9 involving speeding per 100,000 people. It was followed by Montana, with 1.8 and 1.6 fatalities involving drunk driving and speeding, respectively.
More fatal crashes take place in rural areas than urban ones over the 4th of July period, with about 53% of all fatalities occurring in a rural area. Both Montana and Wyoming are primarily rural states, with few urban centers. Drivers may feel safer speeding or driving under the influence in rural areas, where they’re less likely to encounter police or other drivers — but that can come with deadly results.
Similarly, the three states with the most fatal crashes per capita all had higher than average numbers of fatalities on rural roads. In Virginia, 64% of fatalities occurred in rural areas; in Tennessee, it was 54%, and in South Carolina, it was 81%.
The cities with the most traffic deaths were also some of the most populous. The three cities with the most fatalities — Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Houston — all rank among the five most populous cities in the U.S.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and San Bernardino, California, are two exceptions to this: while they both rank in the top 10 cities for fatalities over the July 4th holiday over the last 14 years, they rank 147th and 112th in terms of population, respectively.
Jerry analyzed data from the NHTSA on fatal crashes during the July 4th holiday period from 2006 to 2020 (July 1-8), along with population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Ben Guess · Expert Insurance Writer
Ben has a BA in Journalism + Design from The New School, as well as three years' experience in content writing and data journalism. They are deeply interested in how the car industry intersects with issues of inequity in the world, as well as in making auto insurance more accessible through writing. When they're away from the keyboard, they enjoy baking, embroidering, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends. They are based in Boston, Massachusetts.