[Study] Fourth of July Traffic Fatalities from 2013-2017

The Fourth of July weekend is one of the busiest travel holidays of the year.  In fact, AAA estimated that nearly 40 million Americans took a road trip of 50 miles or more on Independence Day last year.

However, with the increase in traffic and celebration comes a dramatic increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes.

At Paulson Coletti, we want to positively impact the safety of those around us.  So, we worked with data visualization firm 1Point21 Interactive to analyze nearly 165,000 fatal crash records and isolate all crashes that occurred during the Fourth of July weekend.

We found that, from 2013-2017, there were 1,923 fatal crashes during the Fourth of July weekend in the United States, killing 2,110 people.

This represents a 27 percent increase in fatalities over a typical day during those years.

Risk from Drunk Drivers and to Pedestrians Increased As Well

It’s more than an increase in overall fatal crashes and fatalities, however.  Drunk driving fatalities and pedestrian fatalities increase sharply during the Independence Day weekend as well.

Notably, we found that pedestrian fatalities rose 46 percent during this period.  Pedestrians are at an especially high risk during the hours of 9 pm and 1 am, a four-hour window where more than half the pedestrian fatalities (51 percent) took place.

Independence Day Traffic Fatality Risk by State

*Figures in red represent an increase in traffic fatalities during the Fourth of July period, while those in blue represent a decrease.

Rank State Fatal Crashes Fatalities Pedestrian Fatalities Fatality Increase
1 Vermont 7 7 0 146%
2 New Hampshire 12 13 3 136%
3 Alaska 6 7 0 110%
4 Idaho 19 20 1 90%
5 Utah 15 23 9 86%
6 Oregon 33 35 5 81%
7 Rhode Island 5 5 1 79%
8 West Virginia 21 24 2 76%
9 Wyoming 10 10 0 71%
10 Missouri 55 69 7 71%
11 Hawaii 8 8 3 64%
12 Iowa 22 25 2 56%
13 Massachusetts 23 26 2 54%
14 Mississippi 43 46 5 49%
15 Maryland 35 35 8 48%
16 South Dakota 9 9 0 46%
17 Washington 33 35 3 45%
18 Delaware 7 8 2 43%
19 Oklahoma 37 45 8 43%
20 Illinois 60 68 15 41%
21 Maine 10 10 2 39%
22 Michigan 60 64 16 38%
23 New York 64 70 17 37%
24 Alabama 54 58 10 35%
25 Colorado 29 35 9 34%
26 Texas 204 227 40 33%
27 Arizona 52 56 14 33%
28 Kentucky 39 46 3 32%
29 Indiana 48 50 4 29%
30 Kansas 23 24 7 28%
31 Wisconsin 31 33 2 23%
32 California 179 196 64 22%
33 New Mexico 16 20 2 19%
34 Nevada 15 17 1 18%
35 Pennsylvania 65 66 7 18%
36 Louisiana 38 41 11 17%
37 Minnesota 19 21 3 16%
38 North Dakota 6 7 0 15%
39 Tennessee 49 54 1 14%
40 Montana 11 11 1 14%
41 Ohio 51 57 6 11%
42 South Carolina 45 48 10 11%
43 Virginia 38 39 4 9%
44 Florida 131 144 35 8%
45 North Carolina 67 69 15 7%
46 Nebraska 10 11 0 3%
47 Arkansas 21 24 0 -1%
48 Georgia 56 62 4 -5%
49 New Jersey 20 20 6 -27%
50 Connecticut 9 9 6 -31%

While we found that, nationally, motor vehicle crash fatalities increase 27 percent during this period, the impact is a mixed bag at the state level.   All but four states ( Connecticut, New Jersey, Georgia and Arkansas) saw some level of increase in fatalities during the holiday period.  However, 30 states and the District of Columbia had fatalities spike more than the national average (of 27 percent).

An Increased Risk of Being Killed By a Drunk Driver

BBQs and drinking are closely tied to Independence Day celebrations and the numbers reflect this fact.  We found that during the Fourth of July holiday period, 40 percent of all traffic fatalities involved at least one drunk driver (.08 or greater).  This is significantly higher than the nearly 30 percent of the five-year period as a whole.

At that state level, North Dakota had the highest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities.  In fact, every single traffic fatality in North Dakota during the Fourth of July period involved a drunk driver – the only state where this is true.

Which States Have the Highest Percentage of Traffic Fatalities Involving Drunk Drivers?

*Figures in red are above the national average for the total five year period of 30 percent. Figures in blue are below the national average.

Rank State Total Fatalities Drunk Driver Fatalities % of Deaths Involv. a Drunk Driver
1 North Dakota 7 7 100%
2 Montana 11 9 82%
3 Alaska 7 5 71%
4 South Dakota 9 6 67%
5 Oregon 35 23 66%
6 New Hampshire 13 8 62%
7 Louisiana 41 25 61%
8 Missouri 69 42 61%
9 Rhode Island 5 3 60%
10 South Carolina 48 27 56%
11 Idaho 20 11 55%
12 New Mexico 20 11 55%
13 Kentucky 46 24 52%
14 Delaware 8 4 50%
15 Hawaii 8 4 50%
16 Wyoming 10 5 50%
17 Ohio 57 28 49%
18 Colorado 35 17 49%
19 Iowa 25 12 48%
20 Washington 35 16 46%
21 Nebraska 11 5 45%
22 Wisconsin 33 15 45%
23 Connecticut 9 4 44%
24 Vermont 7 3 43%
25 Michigan 64 26 41%
26 Maine 10 4 40%
27 Maryland 35 14 40%
28 California 196 78 40%
29 Pennsylvania 66 26 39%
30 Massachusetts 26 10 38%
31 Virginia 39 15 38%
32 Minnesota 21 8 38%
33 West Virginia 24 9 38%
34 Texas 227 84 37%
35 Oklahoma 45 16 36%
36 Utah 23 8 35%
37 Georgia 62 21 34%
38 Florida 144 48 33%
39 North Carolina 69 23 33%
40 Tennessee 54 18 33%
41 New York 70 23 33%
42 Indiana 50 16 32%
43 Alabama 58 18 31%
44 Illinois 68 21 31%
45 Nevada 17 5 29%
46 Arizona 56 15 27%
47 Arkansas 24 5 21%
48 New Jersey 20 4 20%
49 Mississippi 46 8 17%
50 Kansas 24 4 17%

The Most Dangerous Times of Day to Be on the Road

When are you most likely to be killed in an Independence Day crash?

Of the days included, the Fourth of July is far and away the deadliest day – with 633 traffic deaths over the 5 year period (with 276 involving a drunk driver).

The block of 9 pm to 12 am had the three highest fatality totals.  The highest number of drunk driving fatalities occurred between the hours of 11 pm and 12 am as well, with 95 deaths.

4th of July Fatalities by County

Only 17 counties saw 10 or more traffic fatalities during the holiday period, with Los Angeles, California county leading the way by a significant margin with 43 deaths – followed by Harris County, Texas with 24 and Maricopa County, Arizona and Cook County, Illinois, both with 20.   In fact, six of the top 17 counties are located in California.

Independence Day Traffic Fatalities

Why is this information important?  Fourth of July Safety Tips

At Paulson Coletti, we hope that knowing the risks associated with this holiday weekend will affect the decisions that people make and how they approach getting behind the wheel.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to keep yourself and others safe:

  1. Don’t drink and drive. As illustrated above, 40 percent of all fatalities during the holiday weekend involved a drunk driver.  If you consume alcohol, secure a sober ride home.
  2. Watch out for pedestrians. Our study suggests that pedestrian deaths skyrocket during the Fourth of July.  Pay attention, especially at intersections to make sure that all pedestrians are clear of your vehicle.
  3. Don’t drive or walk distracted. Distracted driving is a leading cause of motor vehicle collisions and can be particularly deadly when it involves a pedestrian.  Conversely, walking distracted can cause you to step right into traffic.  Put the phone away until you arrive at your destination.
  4. Be extra vigilant in the late evening and overnight. If you don’t absolutely have to drive late, try and avoid it.  Nearly half or all drunk driving fatalities occurred between the hours of 9 pm and 3 am.
  5. Inspect your vehicle. Walk around your vehicles and check your tire pressure and tread depth, make sure you aren’t driving around with dangerously worn brakes, and pay attention to your vehicle’s check engine lights. This is especially important if you are taking a road trip.
  6. Obey all posted speed limits and traffic control devices. Speed limits are there for a reason, unsafe speed is a leading cause of injury and death.  Additionally, running stop signs or lights is especially dangerous, particularly when pedestrians are involved.

Methodology Data Sources and Limitations

Our study is based on fatal crash data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the years 2013-2017.

Defining the holiday period: Because the 4th of July falls on different days each year, this holiday period has been defined as:

  • 2013 Wednesday, July 3 – Sunday, July  7
  • 2014 Thursday, July 3 – Sunday, July 6
  • 2015 Thursday, July 2 – Sunday, July 5
  • 2016 Thursday, July 2 – Sunday, July 5
  • 2017 Friday, July 1 – Monday, July 4

The holiday period is from 6 p.m. of the first day listed to 11:59 p.m. of the last day listed, for a total of 17.25 days.

The limitation of this study are two-fold.  First, we were not able to take traffic volume and pedestrian volume into account.  Our numbers are strictly based on fatality and fatal crash totals.   Second, fatal crashes are difficult to predict, especially in low volumes.  This is especially prevalent in the state tables.   While this data is not predictive of future outcomes, it does show that there is a significant increase in fatal crash risk during this holiday period.

Paulson Coletti and 1Point21 Interactive grant fair use of all images and data contained within this study.  If you use our findings or visuals, please cite and link back to this study to give credit to our team.