Traffic Deaths Spike over Thanksgiving Weekend

  • November 21, 2016
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

For Immediate Release: November 21, 2016

Contact: Cathy Chase, 571-243-7282,

“Thanksgiving Tradition” – Highway Deaths Will Spike over the Holiday Weekend, Yet Critical Safety Improvements Languish and Attacks on Existing Safety Protections Intensify

Statement of Jackie Gillan and Cathy Chase, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates)

Jackie Gillan, President, Advocates:  When families take to the roads to be united with loved ones and celebrate Thanksgiving, they unfortunately will be driving during one of the most dangerous and deadly times of the year.  On average over the past five years, more than 420 people are killed in highway crashes, the equivalent of three airplane crashes, over the long holiday weekend.  Elected officials would never tolerate those deaths in the air; they should be equally outraged and spurred into action by roadway fatalities.

Yet, right now Congress is considering a “tired trucker” provision which will take away truckers’ “weekend off.”  With truck crash fatalities exploding past 4,000 for the first time in 7 years, one would think Congress would be taking swift action to improve driving and working conditions for truck drivers.  Congress needs to “wake up” about fatigued driving.  Just last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) included fatigued driving on its Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.  And, a recent public opinion poll found that 80% of those surveyed do not want truck drivers to be forced to drive and work even longer hours.

This holiday we urge all motorists to be extra safe and vigilant when they get behind the wheel.

  • Make sure all passengers are buckled up, including children in proper child safety seats or booster seats. All motorcyclists should wear helmets that meet U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) certification.
  • Make certain to obey speed limits – speeding is the “silent killer” on our roads, as a factor of a quarter of fatalities.
  • If you plan to drink alcohol during your festivities, make sure to have a designated driver or other safe way home.
  • Novice teen drivers must obey all driving restrictions, including passenger and nighttime limitations and cell phone prohibitions.
  • Power off electronic devices to remove the temptation of distractions while driving. Keep your hands on the wheel and your attention on the driving task.
  • Driving while fatigued is the same as driving while impaired. If you are tired, pull over and get some rest.  Getting to your destination safely is paramount.

Just as we are asking motorists to do their part to be safe, we are urging state lawmakers to prioritize improving safety as they begin to plan for the upcoming 2017 legislative session.  The Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, published by Advocates annually, shows that more than 300 basic traffic safety state laws need to be passed to ensure robust safety protections for all road users. For example, despite the reality that nearly half of passenger vehicle occupants killed are unbelted, only 18 states and D.C. have primary enforcement seat belt laws covering passengers in all seating positions. Further, alcohol-impaired driving accounts for nearly a third of all traffic deaths in the U.S., yet 22 states and D.C. still need to pass an all-offender ignition interlock law. This inaction in state legislatures is unacceptable and citizens are paying with their lives and their wallets for these dangerous safety gaps.

Highway crashes, and the resulting deaths, injuries and costs are a known public health problem. Luckily, there are also known solutions. Lawmakers at all levels of government should roll up their sleeves and get to work implementing these commonsense policy solutions that will curb the needless carnage that mounts on our roads and highways.

Cathy Chase, Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Advocates:  As families begin to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, it is a heart-wrenching reality that there will be empty seats at dining room tables all over the country because of preventable crashes over the four-day weekend.  In the last year for which data is available, 116 people were killed each day of the holiday weekend (Thursday – Sunday) – over 30% more than the daily average of 89 fatalities.*  This higher holiday fatality rate is a devastating reminder that we still have significant work to do to prevent motor vehicle crashes.

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) shows that we are going in the wrong direction with traffic crash fatalities skyrocketing. Final data for 2015 shows that more than 35,000 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways, an increase of more than seven percent from the previous year. And, projections for the first half of 2016 show that 17,775 people have been killed from January to June. This is an increase of more than 10 percent from the same time period in 2015.

Large truck crashes are also up significantly. In 2015, there were 4,067 people killed in large truck crashes, which is the highest number since 2008. This is an increase of more than four percent from the previous year and a 20 percent since 2009. Large truck crash injuries have also risen dramatically. From 2009 to 2014, injuries from large truck crashes are up 50 percent and the 111,000 people injured in 2014 represent the highest number since 2005.  Undeterred by these frightening facts, special trucking interests are trolling the hallways of Congress asking that safety protections be stripped.

After Thanksgiving, Congress will debate a bill to keep the federal government open after the current continuing resolution expires on December 9.  Some special trucking interests will use this must-pass funding bill to attach policy “anomalies” that have nothing to do with funding but have everything to do with rolling back, weakening and repealing truck safety protections. Specifically, there is an effort to wipe away safeguards against the well-documented and well-known problem of truck driver fatigue. We call upon Congress to reject these efforts to put private profits over public safety.  Families across the country should be able to embark on their holiday travels this Thanksgiving without fear that a tired trucker will put their lives at risk.


*Traffic Safety Facts 2014, NHTSA, DOT HS 812 261