Traveling Over the Holidays? Here are the Most Dangerous Days, Times, and States for Driving

Ben Guess
Dec 20, 2021 · 6 min read
Key Takeaways:
  • Most fatal crashes happen on the 24th, Christmas Eve, and the 25th, Christmas Day; fatal crashes peak between 6-8 p.m. on the 24th and then decrease afterward.
  • The 29th is the safest day to drive during the Christmas holiday (December 21st-29th), followed by the 21st and 28th.
  • The most dangerous time to drive in the week surrounding the Christmas holiday is between 6-8 p.m. on the 24th, followed by 6-8 p.m. on the 25th and 23rd.
Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming had the highest rates of fatal crashes per 100,000 people over the Christmas holiday, while New Hampshire, Utah, and Rhode Island had the lowest.

The height of the holiday season has the highest rate of fatal crashes

Most people travel in order to reach their friends and family during the stretch between Dec. 23 and New Year’s Day. One survey estimates that 122 million Americans will be traveling for a winter holiday in 2021. This results in an increased number of drivers on the road and a spike in car crash fatalities. December 24th, 25th, and 26th have the highest rate of fatalities during the week surrounding Christmas, December 21-29.
The overall rate of fatalities during the Christmas holiday is lower than the rate of fatalities on an average day, likely due to people spending most of their days inside with friends and family. However, most people still need to travel in order to reach their friends and family; one survey estimates that 122 million Americans will be traveling for a winter holiday in 2021. This results in an increased number of drivers on the road and a small spike in car crash fatalities.
The consumption of alcohol during the holidays also contributes to the fatality rate: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately one-third of fatal crashes during the Christmas holiday between 2005-2019 involved a drunk driver. Increased traffic and alcohol consumption result in more dangerous drivers on the road, which leads to a noticeable spike in fatal car crashes during the holiday.

Driving after sundown during the holiday is dangerous

During the height of the Christmas holiday, many drivers end up heading home from family visits in the evening, accounting for the high rate of evening fatalities from the 21st-29th.
The Pew Research Center also found that approximately 55% of Americans attend religious services during the Christmas holiday. Since this puts more drivers on the road during the holiday, this may also contribute to the spike of crashes on Christmas Eve.
In addition to heavier evening traffic, road visibility is also limited in late December. In the contiguous U.S., the sun fully sets by 6 p.m. during the Christmas holiday, impacting road visibility and contributing to the rate of fatalities. Due to this limited visibility and increased evening traffic, the risk of collision increases between 6-8 p.m. and contributes to the spike of fatal car crashes.

The most dangerous states for driving during the Christmas holiday are in the South and West

Mississippi (3.54), Montana (2.76), and Wyoming (2.58) all had the highest rates of fatalities per 100,000 people over the Christmas holiday period.
Mississippi is a southern state, where drivers may be unused to driving in inclement weather for most of the year. This makes Christmas an especially dangerous time to drive, as Mississippi has a higher rate of precipitation during winter months.
Montana and Wyoming are both rural states with relatively few drivers on normal days, meaning that heavier traffic can cause unexpected crashes. In addition, both of these states have speed limits of 80 mph on rural interstates, which see more traffic during holidays. Higher speeds mean a higher risk of fatality if there is a crash, resulting in higher fatality rates for both states.
Wyoming also prioritizes a select number of roads for winter maintenance. While interstate roads and highways are maintained 20-24 hours a day, many “low volume” roads connecting to those highways are not plowed after sunset. For drivers who are unfamiliar with Wyoming roads, driving near unplowed roads in the dark can be dangerous, and can increase the risk of fatal crashes.
Similarly, Montana’s Department of Transportation only plows highways and interstates. For out-of-state drivers exiting or entering unfamiliar highways, this can be dangerous, especially after dark when the road’s condition might be hard to determine.  These states also have some of the highest fatality rates during the winter, and experience spikes of fatal crashes during Thanksgiving as well. Inclement weather, incomplete winter road maintenance, and high speed limits make these states particularly dangerous to drive through from late November all the way to February.

The safest states for driving during the Christmas holiday are in the Southwest and New England

The states with the lowest rates of fatalities per 100,000 people over the Christmas holiday period are New Hampshire (0.66), Utah (0.63), and Rhode Island (0.38).
Utah, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire regularly experience snowfall during the winter, so most drivers in these states have experience driving in the snow.
In addition, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have speed limits of 65 mph on rural interstate roads, save for a few road segments in New Hampshire with limits of 70 mph, which lowers the risk of fatalities in crashes.
Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Utah also prepare for winter storms by regularly salting, sanding, and plowing public roads, which lowers the risk of accidents altogether. By maintaining roads, keeping lower speed limits, and having a population familiar with snow.

Conclusion

To stay safe this Christmas, drive during daylight. Avoid traveling on traffic-heavy days, and make sure you’re comfortable driving safely in unfamiliar areas at higher speeds. And never get behind the wheel if you’ve had anything to drink, as driving while impaired can increase your chances of an accident.
By following these tips, you can ensure that you and your family have a safe and enjoyable Christmas season.

Methodology

Jerry used crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 2005-2019 to examine the time and volume of fatal crashes throughout the Christmas holiday period. The Christmas holiday period is defined as between 6 p.m., December 21, and 6 a.m., December 29.

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