Why the Fourth of July is summer's deadliest holiday on the roads

Independence Day is about fireworks, parades and picnics, sure, but there's another reality — and it's a sad counterpoint to what's supposed to be a celebration of freedom. The Fourth of July is the deadliest summer holiday on the roads.

This is partly because the holiday is pegged to a specific date. Though it can come on a weekend or be weekend adjacent, some years it falls midweek, on Thursday in 2024 for example. You don't always get a long weekend like Labor Day or Memorial Day, so driving travel can be more concentrated, sometimes even down to the one day. A lot of drinking and other bad decisions can be concentrated on that day too. And more than those other holidays, Fourth of July events coast-to-coast bring out huge crowds.

The folks at the Jerry insurance app took a hard look at NHTSA crash data along with Census Bureau info and came up with some numbers and charts that you might find sobering (literally) this Fourth, when a record 60.6 million Americans are expected to be traveling:

  • There has been an average total of 429 fatal crashes nationwide on the Fourth of July each year between 2016-2022. That's up 17% from the average in 2008-2015.

  • There were nearly 500 deaths by impaired drivers over a Fourth holiday weekend in 2022.

  • Nearly half the crashes, 47%, involved some combination of speeding, drinking and drugs. A third, 31%, involved speeding; a third, 32%, involved at least one driver under the influence of alcohol; and another 12% involved drugs.

  • Three-quarters (73%) of car-crash fatalities on the Fourth are male. The majority had been drinking.

  • Over half (52%) of those killed in crashes are under 40 years old. Two-thirds (66%) of the deaths in that age group were in drinking-related crashes.

  • There's a huge time-of-day uptick for deadly crashes, happening between 9 p.m. and midnight as people drive home from parties and fireworks shows. There's another uptick after 1 a.m. when you add bar closings to that.

  • In some cities and states, the carnage is worse than others. Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit have the most fatal crashes, likewise California, Texas and Florida, which is not surprising given their size. (California alone registered three times as many fatal crashes as New York).

  • But when measured per capita, Detroit, Memphis and Kansas City are the worst. Also Montana and the Dakotas, perhaps because of greater distances driven.

  • And the problem is not just cars — Mothers Against Drunk Driving points out that boating fatalities involving alcohol are also a big problem over the Fourth. The U.S. Coast Guard concurs that the effects of alcohol on judgment and reaction times are greatly amplified on the water.

To address the problem of young people drinking on the Fourth, MADD recommends using strategies from the Power of Parents Handbook, saying a five-year study concluded that the book helps teens become more likely to decline rides from impaired drivers and less likely to drive when impaired themselves.

The Jerry app's report features a dozen revealing charts. We've included two of them here, but for a deeper dive, you should check out the full report.

On the Fourth, fireworks aren't the only risk. Have a safe and sane one.

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