There's a lot to look forward to this Thanksgiving — low gas prices, great Black Friday deals, time with family and friends, and plenty of pumpkin pie. Sadly, though, many people will suffer terrible injuries or lose their lives over the long holiday weekend, a reflection of the annual travel dangers that accompany each of our major national holidays.
AAA predicts that 46.9 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles away from home this week, a 0.6% increase over last year's crowds and the biggest numbers we've seen since 2007.
It's no coincidence that we're seeing the lowest gas prices since that time as well. Affordable fuel, coupled with mostly stagnant lodging and a modestly rebounding economy, should ensure that the roads are as crowded as they've been in recent memory. Unfortunately, that spells real danger for those of us who're heading home for the holidays.
Consider the following Thanksgiving travel statistics for this year:
• Between 66% and 90% of Americans will drive to their Thanksgiving destinations this year.
• 62% of this year's Thanksgiving motorists say they are renting a car to avoid wear and tear on their own vehicles.
• Crash rates increase in both urban and rural areas during Thanksgiving.
• The U.S. national death rate spikes during Thanksgiving each year and remains high throughout the winter.
• On Thanksgiving 2012, there were 764 fatal auto accidents in the U.S., in addition to 50,000 non-fatal accidents.
• 60% of the passengers involved in those fatal Thanksgiving car crashes were not wearing a seatbelt.
• Drunk driving played a role in 40% of the fatal Thanksgiving car crashes in 2012.
• The night before Thanksgiving ("Thanksgiving Eve" or "Blackout Wednesday") is the biggest bar night of the year and has one of the highest annual drunk driving rates.
• Black Friday is considered one of the worst days for traffic and auto accidents.
• Airport safety is a concern too. 11/26, 11/30, and 12/1 are the busiest travel days of the season. Thanksgiving Day itself, meanwhile, is a relatively light day for air travel.
Most holiday auto accidents are the result of preventable driver negligence. In those cases, the driver and his or her insurance provider have a legal duty to pay for the damages. Unfortunately, holding the insurance companies accountable can be a real challenge.
We want everyone to have a warm, safe, and happy Thanksgiving holiday. Please exercise tremendous caution while traveling and remember that the stakes are particularly high this year.