Thanksgiving: A Deadly Holiday for Drivers? – Here’s How To Stay Safe


Did you know that Thanksgiving is considered one of the most dangerous holidays in the United States? For many of us, spending Thanksgiving with friends and family means getting behind the wheel and taking to the highway. Unfortunately, staying safe while traveling for Thanksgiving can present a real concern.

So today, we’re covering why traveling can be difficult over Thanksgiving weekend, as well as how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

How Dangerous Is Thanksgiving Weekend for Drivers?

Thanksgiving is one of the deadliest holidays to travel on, outpacing other holidays notorious for auto accidents like the Fourth of July. The National Safety Council predicts that up to 515 people will die in auto accidents this Thanksgiving, making it the deadliest Thanksgiving since 2007 if those estimates hold true.

“There are 34% more car accidents on Black Friday, 25% more accidents on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and 20% more accidents on Thanksgiving Day compared to the two weeks before and after the holiday.”

Time Magazine Report

To make matters worse, Los Angeles is ranked the deadliest city in the U.S. when it comes to Thanksgiving weekend car accidents, averaging ten deaths a year caused by automobile collisions. It’s also tied for second when it comes to drunk-driving deaths during Thanksgiving—leaving it just behind cities like Bakersfield, California, and Houston, Texas. 

drunk driving accident leaving thanksgiving dinner

Why Is Thanksgiving So Dangerous for Drivers?

There are a few reasons why Thanksgiving weekend is so dangerous to drivers, but one of the key factors is the sheer amount of people hitting the road for the holidays. The American Automobile Association (AAA) of Northern California estimates that around 7 million Californians will travel for Thanksgiving, and approximately 86% of those travelers will make their way via automobile. With so many people crowding the roads, more accidents are inevitable. 

Driver fatigue also plays a role. When people travel for Thanksgiving, they often go a significant distance, with drivers frequently navigating roads for 50 or more miles at a time. Moreover, people often drive early in the morning or late at night, when they’re less likely to be fully alert. Drivers going back to a hotel or heading home after a long day with friends and family may also be exhausted from the day’s festivities by the time they hit the highway. 

It’s not just the time of day making drivers less alert, however. Around Thanksgiving, many drivers take to the roads and head towards airports. Drivers often fail to account for how increased holiday traffic will impact their travel time, and are more likely to drive recklessly in the rush to make their flight or a drop-off as a result. 

Winter weather can also make roads more dangerous around the holidays, although Thanksgiving here in California is usually sunny with a high in the 70’s. 

Last but certainly not least, drinking is a popular pastime on Thanksgiving. Over half of all people aged 25-64 exceed the recommended amount of three daily drinks on Thanksgiving. Drunk drivers are a major threat to everyone else on the road over Thanksgiving weekend.  

All these factors contribute to Thanksgiving weekend’s status as one of the deadliest holidays for drivers in the U.S.

car accident on road in fall

How Can I Travel Safely for Thanksgiving?

Whether you’re hosting friends and family at your place or getting in the driver’s seat this Thanksgiving, taking the right measures to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe is important. 

If you’re hosting a get-together at your place, consider:

  • Making sure everyone who drinks has a designated driver. 
  • Offering sleeping arrangements to guests who drink without a driver. Napping on the floor of the living room with some blankets and pillows is better than ending up in a car accident. 
  • Connecting friends and family with hotels a short distance away. Some guests may not be comfortable sleeping at your place, but will gladly take a ride (preferably in an Uber, Lyft, or taxi) to a hotel a short distance away if they end up drinking a little too much or are too tired to drive safely. 
  • Collect keys at the door. It may be annoying, but it’ll help you ensure that the only people leaving your home are sober and in a fit state to drive.
  • Offer non-alcoholic alternatives to alcoholic drinks. Even better if you can get the kids in on providing or helping you make them!
  • Cut off the alcohol before it’s time for guests to head home. For reference, it takes about an hour to fully sober up from the average alcoholic drink, so consider cutting guests off a few hours before they’re set to leave, especially if they’ve been drinking heavily. 

If you’re hitting the road for Thanksgiving this year, whether in the passenger seat or behind the wheel, here are some measures you can take to stay safe:

  • Plan your travel schedule around other drivers. For example, in most big cities, traffic tends to clog up around 3 – 6 PM the night before Thanksgiving. Try and travel when fewer people are on the road, and prepare yourself for a surge of traffic if you do hit the road at a busy hour. 
  • Drive defensively. Try and follow the three-second rule – if a car in front of you passes a road sign, it should take roughly three seconds before your vehicle passes the same mark. Following this rule and consistently checking your mirrors and the vehicles around you can help you stay safe. 
  • Make sure your car is in good condition. You’ll especially want to make sure your tires, brakes, and headlights are all in good order, particularly if you plan on traveling at night. 
  • Check out the weather forecast. If you live in a state with bad winter weather and see snow on the horizon, you’ll want to adjust your travel plans to account for moving more slowly on icy or snowy roads. 
  • Drink (& don’t drive) responsibly. If you plan on drinking, have a designated driver with you, or get a ride with an Uber, Lyft, or taxi. With how deadly roads can be around Thanksgiving, you’ll want to be fully sober if you get behind the wheel, even if that means going back the next morning to collect your car and paying for a hotel for the night. 
  • Give other drivers on Thanksgiving night and weekend some room. If you notice another driver behaving erratically, try to stay away and let them pass you. The further you are away from drunk, tired, or distracted drivers, the better. 

Hopefully, these tips can help keep you and your loved ones safe this Thanksgiving. 

If you or a loved one does get in an automobile accident, we’re here to help. Our team here at Wilshire Law Firm, PLC, is committed to providing passionate, empathetic care to our clients. You can obtain a free consultation by giving us a call at (800) 501-3011 or contacting us online

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