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Crash Stats Paint a Grim Holiday Picture for Some

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Speeding, alcohol and weather are among the factors that increase the risk of fatal traffic crashes around Thanksgiving, according to a new study.

Although these are common causes of deadly crashes throughout the year, they become even more significant during Thanksgiving week when there are more cars on the road, more drivers on unfamiliar roads, more tired drivers, more distracted drivers and more people attending parties, according to the researchers at the University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety.

"With substantially increased traffic volume over a short period, this combination is a recipe for potential disaster," Allen Parrish, center director and a professor of computer science, said in a university news release.

He and his colleagues analyzed data on fatal crashes in Alabama during Thanksgiving week 2011, as well as national fatal-crash data from 2005 to 2010. Thanksgiving week is defined as the Monday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after.

Nationally, traffic fatalities averaged nearly 750 per week during the six years included in the study, but Thanksgiving week averaged 50 more deaths. In Alabama, the number of fatal crashes averaged 16 a week in 2011, but rose to 17 during Thanksgiving week.

The study also found that the number of U.S. pedestrian deaths was 11 percent higher during Thanksgiving week than other weeks.

The national data showed that 20 percent more traffic fatalities occurred between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. during Thanksgiving week than during other weeks of the year. In much of the nation, these are not daylight hours.

Thanksgiving Day was the safest travel day in Alabama, but traffic deaths nationwide significantly increased during the 24 hours of Thanksgiving Day. Thirty percent of those deaths occurred in the early morning hours, and it's likely that drunk driving played a role in many of those crashes, the researchers said.

There was good news in the study. Nationally, the number of traffic deaths fell 25 percent between 2005 and 2010, and fatal crashes during Thanksgiving week decreased by almost 31 percent.

In Alabama last year, speed was twice as likely to be listed as the primary factor in crashes during Thanksgiving week as in other weeks of the year. The report also found that drunk driving accounted for at least six of the 17 fatal crashes during Thanksgiving week. Weather also played a role, with 67 percent of Thanksgiving week crashes occurring in rain or on wet roads.

The number of collisions with deer in Alabama was 25 percent higher during Thanksgiving week than during other weeks of the year.

The researchers also offered some Thanksgiving driving safety tips:

  • Don't drink and drive, and don't ride with anyone who has consumed any alcohol or drugs. You can reduce your risk from impaired drivers by avoiding driving in the late night and early morning hours.
  • Monitor the weather, and try to avoid driving when there is decreased visibility or wet pavement, especially when coupled with darkness. If caught in a heavy storm, take a break from driving until the storm passes.
  • Plan your trips so you do most of your driving in daylight.
  • If you're driving in rural areas, watch for deer, especially at dusk.
  • Don't talk on your cell phone or text while driving. Delegate such activities to a passenger.
  • Observe the speed limit, and make sure everyone wears their seat belts.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about driving safety.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Alabama, news release, Nov. 19, 2012

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