The number of fatal traffic crashes over the Thanksgiving holiday rose by 24% in the two years after the COVID-19 outbreak, hitting the highest level since 2007, as more people chose to avoid air travel on what is traditionally the busiest travel holiday of the year.
In 2021, the last year for which data is available, 531 people died in 479 fatal crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period. The number of fatalities was the highest since 2017.
Jerry dug into the data to learn more about what’s behind those numbers. Here is what we found.
In the 10 years from 2012 through 2021, Thanksgiving ranked as the third-deadliest driving holiday of the year, behind the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
In 2021, the last year for which data is available, fatal traffic crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday totaled 479, the most since 2007 and a 24% increase from 2019.
Nearly half (48%) of fatal crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday from 2012 through 2021 involved either speeding or drinking. Drinking was involved in 28% and speeding was involved in 33%; both were involved in 12%.
Saturday sees the most deadly crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period, followed by Thursday and Friday.
The single-deadliest hour of the holiday period is 6-7p.m. Thanksgiving Day, followed by 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday and 6 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.
The states with the most deadly crashes per capita during the Thanksgiving holiday are mostly in the South and West. Mississippi, Montana and Louisiana top the list.
The Dakotas and South Carolina top the list of states with the highest rate of alcohol-involved fatal crashes per capita over Thanksgiving. South Carolina, Maine and New Mexico suffer from the most speeding-related fatal crashes per capita.
Among the 100 most populous counties in the U.S., Albuquerque’s Bernalillo County sees the most drinking-related fatal crashes per capita over Thanksgiving, followed by Contra Costa County, CA in the San Francisco Bay area and Houston’s Harris County.
A Question of Timing
Saturday is the deadliest day of the Thanksgiving holiday period, followed by Friday. But per hour, the most fatal crashes occur on Wednesday night as millions of people hit the road for a long holiday weekend and to complete last-minute shopping.
Unlike Labor Day and Fourth of July, when crashes peak between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., the five deadliest hours during the Thanksgiving holiday period are 6-7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Nearly three quarters (73%) of drivers behind the wheel during Thanksgiving holiday fatal crashes were male. More than a third of drivers were in their 20s, and 27% were men in their 20s.
Despite being the second-most populated state, Texas ranks first in fatalities, followed by California and Florida. North Carolina and Georgia see more fatalities than other states with bigger populations.
On a per capita basis, Mississippi suffers far more fatalities during the Thanksgiving holiday than any other state. It also ranks sixth in drinking-related crashes per capita.
Sprawling Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas rank well ahead of any other city in total traffic fatalities over Thanksgiving. In all, five Texas cities rank among the top 10 in total fatalities.
Drinking and Driving
More than half (57%) of all fatal crashes in South Dakota over the Thanksgiving holiday have involved drinking. That’s double the national average. Little wonder, then, that South Dakota sees more drinking-related fatal crashes per capita than any other state.
Among the 100 most populous U.S. counties, Albuquerque’s Bernalillo County tops the list of those with the most drinking-related fatal crashes per capita during the Thanksgiving holiday period. Four counties in Texas rank appear on the list of 10 with the highest rates.
South Carolina, which ranks third in drinking-related fatal crashes per capita, suffers the most speeding-related fatal crashes per capita. Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont and Mississippi also rank among the 10 worst for both.
Among the 100 most populous counties, two in California see far more than any other in the number of speeding-related fatal crashes during Thanksgiving. In all, three California counties are on the list, as well as two in Texas.
All traffic fatality data is from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All population data is from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Henry Hoenig · Data Journalist
Henry Hoenig previously worked as an economics editor for Bloomberg News and a senior news editor for The Wall Street Journal. His data journalism at Jerry has been featured in outlets including CBS News, Yahoo! Finance, FOX Business, Business Insider, Bankrate, The Motley Fool, AutoWeek, and Money.com.