WASHINGTON — Thanksgiving is the third most-dangerous U.S. holiday for driving, behind only Independence Day and Memorial Day, for road fatalities, according to the National Safety Council.
For the 2014 Thanksgiving holiday period, the NSC estimates that 418 highway deaths will occur between 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 26 and 11:59 pm. on Sunday, November 30. In addition, the NSC predicts there will be 44,700 nonfatal injuries serious enough to require medical attention during that same time frame.
And, according to AAA Travel, there's good reason to be extra cautious on the road this Thanksgiving, with 46.3 million Americans expected to journey more than 50 miles from home for the holiday weekend. That's the highest number since 2007 and a 4.2 percent increase over last year.
"A hallmark of Thanksgiving is traveling to be with family and friends, but whether it involves a short drive or a long road trip, the same risks apply," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NSC president and CEO, in a statement. "Sensible precautions can make the difference between a safe visit home or an unwelcome trip to the emergency room."
The NSC's common-sense tips for staying safe on the road include using seatbelts and child seats for every ride, putting away the cell phones, being especially cautious during bad weather and, of course, never driving impaired.
This last item, always a major cause of vehicle crashes, has become a particular concern on Thanksgiving eve in recent years, when the day before the holiday has become known as "Blackout Wednesday" or "Drinksgiving" in many areas.
With many college students home for the holiday and co-workers getting together for a last-minute drink, the day before Thanksgiving offers the perfect time to catch up with old friends and relax before starting the weekend's family activities. But it also marks the start of a hazardous impaired-driving season.
Alcohol Monitoring Systems, which markets SCRAM alcohol testing devices, is conducting its annual Sober Days for the Holidays campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of binge drinking, and especially drinking and driving, at this time of year.
In its research, the company has monitored more than 360,000 high-risk drunk drivers around the clock for alcohol consumption and reports that over the next five weeks, violations will jump an average of 33 percent compared to the rest of the year.
"And that's for individuals who know they're being tested every 30 minutes, know they'll be caught and know there will be consequences like time in jail," said Mike Iiams, AMS chairman and CEO, in a statement.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2-3 times more people die in alcohol-related auto crashes from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day than at other times of the year. And 40 percent of traffic fatalities during the holidays involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 31 percent for the rest of the year.
Edmunds says: Thanksgiving weekend is a good time to start being extra cautious behind the wheel for the entire holiday season.