Millions of Americans are planning road trips for the upcoming holiday weekend. If history is any guide, though, hundreds of those travelers won't return home alive -- and the situation could be especially tragic this year. The National Safety Council projects that the U.S. will see more traffic fatalities this holiday weekend than at any time in the past seven years.
That's saying something, because July 4 is already known as a notoriously bad time for drivers. Unlike Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other major days off, July 4 isn't centered around a formal family dinner. Neighborhood barbecues and trips to the beach are more common. And of course, school's out for summer, so teen drivers are on the loose.
Worse, many July 4 revelers are drinking. The same is true of New Year's Eve, but that's a nighttime affair, and it's become increasingly common for folks to leave their cars at home -- if people even leave home at all, given the chilly temps. Sunny, summery, Independence Day cook-outs are very different events: folks may think that they're just enjoying an icy, refreshing brewski with their burger, but after the third or fourth or eighth, most will be in no condition to drive.
For much of the past decade, there had been a steady decline in fatalities over the July 4 weekend. In 2005, there were 565 fatalities on U.S. roads, but by 2010, that figure had dropped to 365. In 2011, however -- just as consumers began to shake off worries about the Great Recession -- stats shot up to 405. (It takes about three years for data to be culled from every county, city, and state agency, so 2011 is the most recent fully accurate figure available.)
This year, NSC predicts a slight increase from 2008, with a total of 409 deaths and 49,500 injuries. The last time numbers were that high, it was 2008.
Why the jump? NSC doesn't offer any rationale, but we know that travel of all kinds is on the increase. AAA expects 41.9 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from their homes over the holiday weekend, a number that hasn't been seen since 2007. Of that number, 35.5 million are planning to travel by car. That means more people on the roads -- and naturally, more people means increased opportunities for accidents.
Are you planning to travel this July 4 weekend? If you're doing anything special, let us know -- some of us are stuck at home and need to live vicariously.