Summer Is the Deadliest Time to Drive
By Aaron Crowe
Driving during the summer sounds easy enough: good weather and a relaxing drive to a vacation hideaway are what summer’s all about.
The best driving conditions of the year come during the summer — dry roads, excellent visibility and longer daylight hours. Summer driving has got to be a lot safer than driving through a winter blizzard, right?
Not exactly. Those seasonal benefits are negated by a host of other factors. Here are some of the culprits that makes summer the deadliest time of the year to drive:
Driving while under the influence of alcohol
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, there are more alcohol-impaired drivers during the summer months, causing nearly twice the number of auto deaths than during the rest of the year combined.
Add in a holiday with summer travel and alcohol, and summer has some of the deadliest days of the year on the road.
During Labor Day weekend in 2010, according to the NHTSA, 147 people in the U.S. were killed as a result of drunk driving, representing 36 percent of highway fatalities during that period.
The Fourth of July holiday is the deadliest day of the year to drive. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, analyzed every day of the year and found July 4 to be the worst, with an average of 144 people killed on the nation’s highways on that day. A high proportion involved impaired drivers.
More teens driving
School is out for summer, giving unexperienced teenage drivers more time to be on the road. And that can lead to more deadly car crashes, though not necessarily with more teens dying.
Nearly two-thirds of people injured or killed in a crash involving a teen driver are people other than the teen behind the wheel, according to a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. In 2013, 371,645 people were injured and 2,927 were killed in crashes involving a teen driver.
Many of these crashes come during what’s commonly called the “100 Deadliest Days” of the year — the summer vacation time between Memorial Day and Labor Day when teen crash fatalities historically climb.
Teenage alcohol consumption is partly to blame. An estimated 5.8 percent of teens ages 16-17, and 15.1 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds reported driving under the influence of alcohol in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A total of 3,115 teens ages 13-19 died in vehicle crashes that year, and about two out of three fatalities were males.
Teen drivers are more likely to engage in distracted driving, including texting, using a phone or grooming while in a car. Their brains also aren’t fully developed, leading to poor decision making such as taking chances while driving.
Jessie Gill, a holistic registered nurse who has written about how adolescent brains are significantly different than adults, says teens don’t have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. That area is responsible for reasoning, planning, judgement and understanding consequences, Gill says.
Teens have a very well developed nucleus accumbens, the “pleasure center” of the brain that seeks out pleasure and reward, she says.
“This is why spur decisions are made such as speeding or reckless driving,” Gill says. They’re seeking thrill and excitement without fully comprehending the consequences.”
To help teens drive better, parents need to lead by example, such as never getting emotional behind the wheel, says Shannon McGurk, 54, a father of 12 children who coaches men to be better men.
Other than a meteor landing on your car, “everything else is driver error,” McGurk says, adding that “situational awareness” can be taught. “You can anticipate almost everything.”
Poor parental supervision, lack of involvement and lack of credible consequences for bad decisions contribute to the problem of poor teenage driving, he says. McGurk says that before his children drive off, he tells them that he loves and trusts them, and reminds them to call him if they’re in a bind. Still, he worries.
“I worry all the time and I’m always waiting for that call,” McGurk says.
Summer celebrations and road trips
Vacations, family get-togethers and a number of holidays during the summer make it peak driving season. With more people on the road, the chances of an accident increases.
While July 4 is the deadliest day of the year as the nation celebrates its birthday, other summer days are deadly too. The IIHS found that after July 4, the next-deadliest days of the year are Sept. 2, Aug. 13, July 15, May 20 and Nov. 11.
Seven of the 25 deadliest days in the U.S. happened during August, making it the deadliest month on the road. September and July rank as the second and third deadliest months, according to the NHTSA.
Summer road construction
Road construction is popular during the summer because the good weather makes it easier for workers to do their jobs. But not every driver is a cautious as they should be around construction zones.
Construction and maintenance work zones averaged 669 driving fatalities per year from 2007 through 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Most of those deaths are in Texas, California and Florida.
There were 105 worker fatalities at road construction sites in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with transportation incidents accounting for 66 percent of those fatalities. From 2003 to 2013, Texas had the most worker deaths in work zones at 131.
More bikes and motorcycles
The warm weather of summer also brings out more cyclists and bikers, requiring drivers to learn to share the road with them and making right turns and other maneuvers more difficult.
The IIHS reports that 741 cyclists were involved in fatal accidents with vehicles in 2013.
This may be a problem for teens more than anyone else, but summer romance in a car can be a distraction, especially if it’s a first, says April Masini, a relationship advice expert at AskApril.com.
“Teenage romance is particularly poignant because it’s a first in many cases, and when teens should be focusing on the road, they’re usually not,” Masini says. “They’re thinking about summer loving.”
Mix all of these hazards together in various forms, and you’ve got a summer where doing anything except driving can be the safest thing to do.
Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.