On the way to the hospital to follow up with one of the victims of the first crash, two sheriff’s deputies noticed a stalled car on I-35. They stopped to help, and the next thing they knew, a Lincoln Town Car was spinning out of control and heading in their direction. The Lincoln slammed into one of the squad cars, killing a passenger and ejecting two others from the vehicle.
Nearly 40,000 people in the country die in traffic accidents every year, according to a new report by the website HelpAdvisor. Between 2015 and 2019, Texas clocked in with the highest number of fatal car crashes during the holiday season.
HelpAdvisor studied fatal car crash statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to calculate the rates of deadly holiday driving in each state.
“The data found in the helpadvisor.com report can serve as a much-needed reminder for everyone to be extra diligent when behind the wheel this holiday season,” Christian Worstell, the author of the report, said by email. “We should always practice safe driving, but data like this can heighten awareness of the issue at a critical time.”
Worstell and the research team specifically looked at crashes occurring Dec. 24-26 and Dec. 31-Jan. 2. Fatal car crashes around Christmas declined by 17% in that time, but they increased by 13% around New Year’s Day.
Overall, Worstell said, traffic fatalities around the holidays can be attributed to a combination of factors including increased travel, increased driving after dark (because there are fewer daylight hours during the winter), increased alcohol consumption during the holidays and winter weather.
Five states — Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Florida and Texas — saw the highest rates of fatal holiday car crashes per 100,000 drivers. Additionally, the fatal collisions in Connecticut, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin were more likely to involve drunk or impaired drivers.
“We should always practice safe driving, but data like this can heighten awareness of the issue at a critical time.” – Christian Worstell, HelpAdvisor
While Texas had the highest number of fatal holiday crashes, 298, it was fifth on the list of states with the most crashes per capita.
A third of traffic-related deaths in the U.S. involved intoxicated drivers. According to the report, the percentage of fatal accidents involving impaired driving in some states is much higher than the national average, 33%. In Connecticut, for example, half of all the fatal winter holiday crashes involved a driver with blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit. Some states, like Texas, had rates above 40%. Texas saw nearly 300 deadly holiday crashes. Nearly half of those involved drivers with blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit.
Recently passed by Congress, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes a mandate for all new cars to have drunk and impaired driving prevention technology by 2026.
It’s a hard thing to speculate about based on the data alone, but Worstell said it’s logical to think that local traffic laws concerning seatbelts, phone usage, alcohol impairment and other safety factors could play a role in accident and fatality rates.
“In its 2021 annual report, the nonprofit alliance Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety identified the six states with the safest overall traffic laws, and none of the six cracked the top 10 of the most deadly states for holiday driving in our report,” Worstell said.
He added, “But by the same measure, just one of the states with the loosest traffic laws was one of the deadliest states for holiday driving according to our data, leading us to conclude that a correlation between state traffic laws and fatal accidents around the holidays is inconclusive based on these datasets alone.”
In the annual Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety report, Texas was given a "yellow" rating, indicating a need for improvement because of gaps in current traffic laws, Worstell said.
Things aren't much better in Dallas. According to D Magazine, Dallas has the second highest traffic fatality rate among the 15 most populated U.S. cities, reaching a total of 228. City Council created a task force to help reduce these fatalities in 2019 when Dallas had the fifth-highest rate. Dallas hopes to reach zero annual traffic fatalities by 2030.