In A Nutshell
Driving in winter is pretty dangerous in the US, right? There’s snow and ice on the ground and a good chance of blizzards. It’s very dark, and when it’s not dark, the sun is still low in the sky. None of that’s as big a worry if you’re living somewhere like Orlando or Austin, but even those places have Christmas and Thanksgiving filling drivers with booze. Yet the most dangerous time to be on the roads is actually the summer—and worse, 92 percent of Americans get this wrong. It’s mainly due to two things: Youngsters being on the roads during summer vacation, and the Fourth of July.
The Whole Bushel
Summer brings dry roads, good visibility, and plenty of daylight. Yet one-third of road fatalities occur during June, July, and August, a quarter of the year. The most dangerous US driving day of the year is Independence Day, when average fatalities countrywide are 148. The rest of the year it averages 114. New Year’s Eve ranks as the seventh-most dangerous day overall, and all six days above it are in the period from late May to early September.
Yet this one particular day nestles amongst what has been called “The 100 Deadliest Days” for teenagers behind the wheel. This period, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, sees teens take to the roads during summer break. Lack of driving experience, combined with so much free time and the various distractions teenagers bring into their cars, is a lethal combination.
Another reason for summer being dangerous is simply that people don’t realize it. In winter, people take particular care to drive safely. During the summer, the conditions lure people into a false sense of complacency. It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising—there’s an adage that people would be less likely to die in motor accidents if every steering wheel had a spike pointed at the driver’s chest instead of an air bag. It’s the same part of our psychology that makes driving safer in places that remove all of their traffic lights.
This false sense of safety backfires in another way—a disproportionately high number of accidents take place on rural roads. The low traffic and open scenery mean people drive too quickly and become distracted more easily in the countryside. Over half of all highway deaths occur in rural areas, yet 80 percent of people live in urban areas. Ultimately, it’s never a good idea to get too comfortable when you’re driving.