Texas, California Top List of Deadliest States On Memorial Day Weekend

Henry Hoenig
Updated on May 25, 2022 · 4 min read

Key Insights

  • Texas, California and Florida saw the most total traffic fatalities among states during the Memorial Day weekend over the past decade; West Virginia, Louisiana and South Dakota saw the most fatalities per capita.
  • Just over half (53%) of fatal crashes occurred between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m., and 39% involved at least one driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • Nearly two thirds (64%) of all fatal traffic crashes during the Memorial Day holiday weekend over the past 10 years involved only a single vehicle, and 56% involved a vehicle leaving the roadway.
  • Only 12% of fatal crashes took place on an interstate highway.
Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer road trip season — and the start of a jump in holiday-related traffic fatalities. Deaths from traffic crashes rise about 12% on Memorial Day weekend versus comparable non-holiday weekends. Memorial Day weekend and the two other major summer holidays — July 4 and Labor Day — all average more daily traffic fatalities than any non-summer holiday.
Over the past decade, more than 4,100 people were killed in traffic accidents during the Memorial Day weekend.

Death Toll Rises Late in Days as Alcohol Flows

Starting in the early morning, the number of traffic fatalities rises steadily throughout each day during the long Memorial Day weekend, peaking at about 8 p.m. but remaining elevated until after 3 a.m., about an hour after a common closing time for bars. More than half — 53% — of all traffic deaths during the holiday take place between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Alcohol is involved in more fatal crashes during Memorial Day weekend than the average weekend. Over the past decade, 39% of all fatal crashes during the holiday weekend involved at least one driver who had been drinking alcohol, compared with 36% of all weekend fatal crashes in 2019.
Saturday night and the early hours of Sunday morning are the deadliest hours on Memorial Day weekend. Saturday from 8-9 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. and 2-3 a.m. on Sunday rank as the three hours with the most fatalities, followed closely by 2-3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Yet Fridays from 6 p.m. to midnight saw more fatalities than the same times on Sundays and Mondays.
The most fatalities overall happened on Saturday, followed by Sunday, but one study found that the risk of being involved in a fatal crash was highest on Mondays.

Texas, California and Florida See Most Fatalities

Texas, California, and Florida — the three states with the most people — suffered the most fatalities by far during the past decade. Houston and Harris County, in which Houston is located, topped the lists of cities and counties with the most Memorial Day holiday traffic fatalities.
Factoring in a state’s population sheds a different light on the number of fatalities, with West Virginia enduring the most Memorial Day weekend traffic deaths per capita. The 10 states with the most fatalities per capita are all in the southern or western halves of the country.
Half of all traffic fatalities during Memorial Day weekend take place in non-rural areas. As with the most populous states, it’s no surprise that the biggest cities in the country see the most fatalities. Indianapolis is something of an exception. It tied for the second-most deaths over the past decade, despite ranking 15th in population.
Looking at traffic deaths at the county level can offer a more complete picture of which metro areas see the most fatal crashes over Memorial Day weekend. The numbers for Houston’s Harris County are nearly double the city’s total, while the total for Los Angeles County is nearly triple that of the city.

Palm Beach, St. Louis Counties See Most Deaths Per Capita

As with the states, looking at county fatalities on a per capita basis generates a new list of deadliest cities. Among counties with populations of more than 1 million, Palm Beach, St. Louis and Fresno counties see the most traffic deaths per capita during the holiday weekend.
Looking at medium-size counties, with a population between 250,000 and 1 million, St. Tammany Parish in the New Orleans area, California’s Merced County and Rutherford County southeast of Nashville, Tennessee top the list.

Methodology

Jerry analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on fatal crashes during the Memorial Day holiday period from 2011 through 2020. To calculate per capita fatalities, we analyzed population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Note: The NHTSA defines the Memorial Day holiday period as running from 6 p.m. on the Friday ahead of Memorial Day through 6 a.m. Tuesday following the holiday. Our use of the term “Memorial Holiday weekend” refers to the same time frame.

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