Holidays are frequently the most popular times to travel in the United States. In 2016, the Automobile Association of America (AAA) estimated that 232.7 million people traveled 50 miles or more during major holidays. Of those, nearly 89% (207.1 million) traveled by car.
Busy roads increase the chances of catastrophe, and holidays can make that worse. Indeed, in 2016, the National Safety Council estimated 2,458 traffic fatalities in the U.S. across six distinct holiday periods: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
We teamed up with visual content agency 1Point21 Interactive to help us visualize the amount of traffic fatalities on major holidays in South Carolina from 2006-2015. In total, there were 517 fatal collisions and 558 people reported killed.
Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer - and in a coastal state like South Carolina, that can mean a large amount of traffic. From 2006-2015, there were 97 fatal collisions resulting in 109 deaths during Memorial Day weekend - the highest amount of any of the holidays listed here. Nationally, the holiday is typically one of the less busy major holidays of the year - what gives?
Myrtle Beach, the central showcase of South Carolina's Grand Strand, is a major summer destination which attracts an incredible number of tourists every year. In 2016, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce reported a record 18 million visitors in the summer season alone.
Additionally, summer is historically the season that posts the most miles traveled of the year. With a high rate of miles traveled increases the likelihood of accidents and fatalities, especially in an area rife with tourists and vacationers.
Fourth of July
Aside from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, Independence Day is the nation's most traveled holiday - in 2016, AAA estimated that 36 million travelers across the country would be driving 50 miles or more.
As such, the relatively low number of total fatalities and fatal collisions over the past decade is intriguing, especially considering the most recent numbers seem lower than normal. In fact, the Fourth of July is tied with New Year's for the lowest number of major holiday fatalities in 2015. Traffic on Fourth of July has consistently been rising, breaking records for the past few years, so it would make sense that as traffic rises, so do fatalities.
This may be an anomaly, however; according to AAA Carolinas, South Carolina hit a staggering 17 fatalities in 2016, the highest since 2006.
Labor Day is typically the least traveled holiday weekend of the year. In 2015, AAA estimated 30.4 million drivers on the road in the United States during Labor Day weekend, well short of the next highest traveled holiday (Memorial Day). And in 2016, they decided not to release traveler estimates at all, citing a need to prioritize their resources on more important endeavors.
Nonetheless, Labor Day remains a popular holiday weekend in South Carolina. Like Memorial Day weekend, this is an extremely busy time near Myrtle Beach, where tourists pilgrimage for one last hurrah of summertime.
Thanksgiving is always a busy traveling holiday, with the number of travelers seemingly increasing year-over-year. In 2016, AAA Carolinas estimated that 670,000 South Carolinians would hit the road during the Thanksgiving weekend period, a 1.9 percent increase over 2015.
Although the number of fatal collisions and fatalities is lower than those of major summer holidays, they still remain a concern. In 2015, Thanksgiving was the second deadliest major holiday of the year with 9 fatalities over 9 fatal collisions, and has been steadily increasing since a sharp decline in 2013.
The winter holiday period is typically the most traveled holiday period of the year, with AAA estimating 93.6 million drivers on US roads during Christmas and New Year's holiday periods combined. In South Carolina, this is certainly reflected in the number of fatal collisions and fatalities - in 2015, Christmas was the deadliest holiday period of the year.
As a whole, however, 2015 was not good year for traffic fatalities in South Carolina. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association, there were 977 fatalities in the state, a 16 percent increase from 2014. Factors such as cheap gas prices, the rise in distracted driving, and fewer state troopers on the road resulted in an atmosphere ripe for unsafe driving conditions.
On the surface, New Year's looks relatively tame in terms of traffic fatalities - in fact, according to the data, it's the least deadly major holiday in South Carolina.
However, most (if not all) of these fatalities happen on one day: January 1, which can be cause for concern. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, January 1st was the second worst day for crash deaths in the country from 2010-2014 with 591 deaths - only one death below the worst day, July 4th.
Additionally, January 1st saw the highest percentage of alcohol-associated crash deaths in the that same time period - a whopping 62 percent. From that perspective, it can be easy to see why January 1st is highly regarded as one of the most dangerous driving days of the year.
Taking the proper precautions before embarking on a holiday road trip can ensure that you have a safe time.
Follow the speed limit. Speeding was the single highest cause of deaths and injuries on the road, accounting for 216 fatalities in 2015. That's roughly 22% of all road fatalities in South Carolina for that year.
Don't drink and drive, under any circumstances. Driving under the influence was the second highest cause of deaths and injuries in SC in 2015, causing 20% of fatalities.
Keep your eyes on the road at all times. Distracted driving is an ever-increasing problem, whether it's phone use, texting, or any other distractions. According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, 2015 had a record 64 deaths, and 2016 had a record 5,698 collisions.
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