By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The days surrounding Independence Day see more fatal car crashes than any other day during the year, according to an analysis of state traffic records by researchers at the University of Alabama.
During the past five years, the days around the Fourth of July averaged three fatal crashes a day, 29% higher than the average of fatal crashes per day the rest of the year, the study by UA’s Center for Advanced Public Safety showed.
As a way to make the roads safer during the long holiday weekend this year, Corporal Jess Thornton of the Alabama Highway Patrol said that there will be an increase presence of state troopers on the road to ensure safety.
“For this Fourth of July weekend, people will notice us in certain areas doing certain details like driver’s license checkpoints or a detail on the interstate looking for speed, which causes the major crashes on the four-lane highways,” Thornton said. “But you will see us out there doing these details to make sure everyone is staying safe this weekend.”
Thornton told Alabama Daily News that there were eight car fatalities over the Fourth of July period last year.
He also said that during the summer holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day can be the more deadly holidays when it comes to car crashes and fatalities.
It isn’t just down by the coast, where a lot of tourists head to during these summer holidays. It can be all over the state.
“Any area, these major travel thoroughfares are going to be busy no matter where you are in the state,” Thornton said. “Folks are not only going to be traveling to the beach but they’ll be traveling to see their family or friends, and it only takes one bad decision that ends up resulting in a crash.”
Governor Kay Ivey also told Alabama Daily News that she appreciates the state troopers and law enforcement who will be on the roads ensuring everyone’s safety during the holiday and hopes Alabamians will make wise decisions when deciding to drive.
“As we head into the Fourth of July holiday, many Alabamians will be relaxing and celebrating with their friends and family. However, while enjoying your festivities, I urge everyone to be wise when making the decision to get behind the wheel on our roadways and waterways,” Ivey said. “This is important for your own safety and the safety of others.”
The major causes of crashes around the holiday are impaired driving from alcohol or other drugs, as well as speeding.
“This is true in most states,” said Dr. David Brown, a researcher with CAPS, who performed the study.
“Times before and after this iconic American holiday make it one of the deadliest holiday periods of the year across the country due to drunk-driving crashes.”
The study employed the Critical Analysis Reporting Environment, or CARE, a software analysis system developed by CAPS research and development personnel to automatically mine information from existing databases. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, or ALEA, provided crash records for the study.
From 2014 to 2018, the five-day period around Independence Day averaged 1,857 crashes, about 90 percent of the average from any randomly chosen five-day period throughout the year. However, the three fatal crashes per day is more than the 2.33 per day the rest of the year, according to state traffic data.
Similar to other holidays, the frequency of crashes is lower mainly because of fewer crashes on July Fourth itself, typical of lower crashes on other holidays, as people are likely at their destinations.
“To take advantage of the lower number of crashes on the Fourth itself, the best time to travel is during mid-day and before it gets dark,” Brown said. Fatal crashes increase after 6 p.m. and occur significantly more than the typical day during the two days before and after the holiday, according to CAPS’ analysis.
While observing the traditional recommendations of not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol nor riding with drivers who fail to observe speed limits, Brown said seat belts save many lives in otherwise fatal crashes.
“The most effective way of increasing survivability and reducing injury in all crashes is the use of restraints,” he said.
Of those killed in crashes during the holiday period, 63% were not buckled, a higher rate than the rest of the year. The fatality rate for those who wore restraints was less than 1%.