An Analysis of Alcohol-Related Fatal Crashes: Which Days Are Most Dangerous?

drunk driving fatalities map

At around 10 p.m. on July 4, 2020, a drunk driver struck a teenager on a motorcycle in Cowley County, Kansas, killing him at the scene. Even his helmet could not protect him from the severe impact of the head-on collision.

On Christmas Eve 2020 at around 3 a.m., two San Antonio men were killed in separate collisions with the same drunk driver – a 26-year-old who entered Southeast Loop 410 the wrong way. One of the victims was a trauma nurse and a veteran. Both men who lost their lives were fathers separated from their families.

At 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2020, a group of friends in Bakersfield, California were driving a few blocks away, but they never made it. The driver of their own car crashed into a tree, killing his three friends seated in the back with no seatbelts. He had been drinking.

There is no debate that alcohol use and drunk driving is a significant factor in traffic crashes in the United States.  In fact, from 2015 – 2019, over 25 percent of fatal crashes in the U.S. involved at least one alcohol-impaired driver.  This amounted to 43,494 crashes and 48,348 deaths that may have been completely preventable.

Because drunk driving crashes are so prevalent, we wanted to find out more.  When are they the most likely to occur? Are certain days more dangerous? Do some states have bigger problems than others? We worked with data visualization agency 1Point21 Interactive to analyze fatal crash data from 2015-2019 to find out.

Deadliest or Most Dangerous Days

When examining this data, it’s easy to look at totals to see which days are deadliest.  In general, fatal drunk driving collisions are much more likely to occur on Friday (15 percent), Saturday (24 percent), and Sunday (22 percent).

However, to find out which specific days road users may be at higher risk of being killed by a drunk driver, we went beyond total volume.  We calculated the percentage of total fatal crashes that involved at least one drunk driver.  By this measure, the three most dangerous days are either holidays or the day after a holiday – New Year’s Day, The Fourth of July and the day after St. Patrick’s Day.

deadliest days of the year chart

In fact, among the 25 days with the highest percent of drunk driving crashes, seven are either fixed date holidays or the day after a fixed date holiday.

The 25 Most Dangerous Days for Drunk Driving

Top 25 Deadliest Days

Rank Date Alcohol Related
Fatal Crashes
Fatal Crashes Percentage of Crashes
Involving Alcohol
1 January 1st 232 544 43%
2 July 4th 209 576 36%
3 March 18th 148 427 35%
4 March 25th 141 424 33%
5 April 28th 154 465 33%
6 July 2nd 171 525 33%
7 April 9th 154 474 32%
8 May 25th 172 530 32%
9 May 6th 160 493 32%
10 May 28th 152 474 32%
11 May 5th 164 513 32%
12 May 24th 143 451 32%
13 November 10th 157 496 32%
14 June 2nd 146 462 32%
15 April 14th 139 441 32%
16 March 17th 144 457 32%
17 December 25th 119 378 31%
18 July 14th 182 580 31%
19 July 15th 165 526 31%
20 July 29th 154 493 31%
21 August 27th 147 471 31%
22 April 29th 135 433 31%
23 February 28th 125 402 31%
24 May 21st 146 470 31%
25 July 28th 166 536 31%

New Year’s Day: The Deadliest Day

NYE Fatalities Map

We found that New Year’s Day is – by far – the deadliest and most dangerous day of the year in terms of drunk driving. While this day had only two more drunk driving fatalities than the next closest day – the Fourth of July –  43 percent of all fatal crashes were alcohol-related. Over the five-year study period, there were 232 fatal crashes and a total of 255 people killed on New Year’s Day from alcohol-impaired crashes.

We also found that there were more than twice as many crashes and fatalities on New Year’s Day between midnight and 4 a.m., compared to 8 p.m. to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Once the new calendar year begins, the roads become much more dangerous.

The Fourth of July

4th of July Fatals Map

The second deadliest day for drunk driving was the Fourth of July, behind only New Year’s Day.  A total of 253 people were killed in alcohol-related collisions on this summer holiday and 36 percent of all fatal crashes (209) involved at least one drunk driver.

On Independence Day, the deadliest hour is 10 p.m., most likely when people are driving home after watching the fireworks show. People are already under a holiday daze, but when that state of mind is combined with alcohol and high traffic, the result can be dangerous.

St. Patrick’s Day

St Patricks Day Fatalities Map

St. Patrick’s Day,  March 17th, is celebrated by people of all backgrounds around the world.  As another heavy drinking holiday in the U.S., both St. Patrick’s day and the day after are extremely high-risk days for fatal drunk driving accidents.  On March 18th, 35 percent of all fatal crashes involved alcohol – the third-highest percentage of any day – while 32 percent were alcohol-related on St. Patrick’s Day.

The most alcohol-related fatal crashes on the 17th and 18th occurred in: California (46), Texas (29), Florida (27), Virginia (13) and Louisiana (11).  Three of the four counties on these two days were in California: Riverside (7), Los Angeles (6) and Kern (4), with Arizona’s Maricopa County (7) rounding out the top five.

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo Fatals Map

Cinco de Mayo, celebrated on the 5th of May, is very often mistaken as “Mexican Independence day.” However, this holiday actually celebrates the Mexican Army’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla. In the U.S., it is seen as a day to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage.  It’s also one of the heaviest drinking holidays, along with the two listed above. As such, both the 5th and 6th of May are among the most dangerous days for fatal drunk driving accidents. Just over 32 percent of all crashes on both days involved at least one drunk driver.

Christmas Day

Christmas Fatals Map

While Christmas day has a relatively low number of drunk driving-related crashes, they make up a high percentage of all fatal crashes at 31 percent. Christmas day is not generally thought of as a focus day for drunk driving prevention, but it appears that it should be added to the discussion. California and Florida led the way in these types of crashes with 20 and 17 respectively, more than double that of third-place Texas (8).

Deadliest Hour of the Day

hours of day chart

While all fatal crashes peak at 6 p.m. – the height of rush hour – the most dangerous hours of the day for drunk driving aren’t during the day at all.  In fact, fatal crashes involving alcohol are much more common late at night and in the early hours of the morning –  peaking between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.  During this hour, 3,540 alcohol-related fatal crashes occurred – a full 58 percent of all collisions.  This explains why so many of the most dangerous days come the day after a heavy drinking holiday.

Hour Drunk Driving
Crashes
Drunk Driving
Deaths
All Crashes All Deaths
12am 3112 3473 6402 7027
1am 3289 3688 6087 6712
2am 3540 3963 6178 6817
3am 2265 2549 4661 5134
4am 1460 1629 4025 4357
5am 1141 1250 5399 5756
6am 910 1005 6354 6790
7am 774 852 5747 6247
8am 448 496 4678 5023
9am 370 405 4706 5095
10am 409 455 5172 5613
11am 559 614 5991 6548
12pm 631 709 6584 7233
1pm 854 942 7208 7873
2pm 1069 1193 7825 8560
3pm 1337 1477 8593 9424
3pm 1603 1792 8600 9459
5pm 2007 2218 9275 10071
6pm 2447 2726 9727 10529
7pm 2650 2928 9241 9958
8pm 2872 3183 9576 10297
9pm 3072 3418 9393 10151
10pm 3063 3409 8135 8803
11pm 3114 3446 7297 7918

Do Some States Have Bigger Problems With Drunk Driving?

Based on this data, the answer appears to be yes. While large states such as California, Texas and Florida have many times more fatal crashes than smaller states, those figures don’t tell you everything. We adjusted for both percentages of total crashes and alcohol-related fatal crashes per capita. We found that those three states were at or below the U.S. average for both of those metrics.

Which states have the biggest problems?

Montana, North Dakota, and Rhode Island have the highest percentage of alcohol-related crashes in the United States, the only three states above 40 percent.  All in all, 29 states and D.C. were above the national average of 26 percent.

Montana and North Dakota also have two of the highest rates of these crashes per capita (with Wyoming and South Carolina as the other two states with a crash rate of more than double the national average).

Polar Opposites

Interestingly, New York had the lowest number of any state in both metrics, with less than one fatal drunk-driving crash per 100,000 people and only 19 percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol. Montana, on the other hand, had the highest number in both metrics with 7.28 fatal drunk-driving crashes per 100,000 people and 44 percent of fatal crashes being alcohol-related.

State All Crashes Drunk Driving

Crashes

Alcohol Related

Percentage

Alcohol Related

Crashes Per 100k

Montana 878 389 44% 7.28
North Dakota 504 213 42% 5.59
Rhode Island 274 113 41% 2.13
Alaska 344 132 38% 3.61
South Dakota 528 190 36% 4.30
Wisconsin 2680 930 35% 3.19
Vermont 274 93 34% 2.98
Maine 729 245 34% 3.65
Colorado 2797 923 33% 3.21
Wyoming 554 181 33% 6.25
Nebraska 1035 335 32% 3.46
Ohio 5211 1656 32% 2.83
Washington 2530 803 32% 2.11
Louisiana 3495 1107 32% 4.76
South Carolina 4663 1472 32% 5.72
Idaho 1066 323 30% 3.61
New Hampshire 555 168 30% 2.47
Minnesota 1754 525 30% 1.86
Virginia 3769 1114 30% 2.61
Connecticut 1307 385 29% 2.16
Massachusetts 1687 494 29% 1.42
Oregon 2158 629 29% 2.98
Illinois 4808 1399 29% 2.21
Hawaii 502 144 29% 2.03
New Mexico 1685 478 28% 4.56
Michigan 4622 1311 28% 2.63
Nevada 1475 418 28% 2.71
Maryland 2420 663 27% 2.19
District of Columbia 130 35 27% 0.72
Missouri 4200 1115 27% 3.63
North Carolina 6534 1722 26% 3.28
Oklahoma 3012 787 26% 3.98
Iowa 1543 400 26% 2.54
Arkansas 2375 615 26% 4.08
Delaware 581 150 26% 4.25
California 16359 4195 26% 2.12
Pennsylvania 5366 1372 26% 2.14
West Virginia 1288 329 26% 3.67
Texas 16539 4143 25% 2.86
Kentucky 3509 870 25% 3.89
Tennessee 4827 1145 24% 3.35
Arizona 4421 1042 24% 2.86
Alabama 4317 998 23% 4.07
Florida 14419 3058 21% 2.85
New Jersey 2731 562 21% 1.27
Utah 1226 244 20% 1.52
Georgia 6975 1385 20% 2.61
Kansas 1838 356 19% 2.44
New York 4724 913 19% 0.94
Mississippi 3024 541 18% 3.64
Indiana 3881 684 18% 2.03

Why This Study Matters & Tips to Stay Safe

Is there such a thing as moderation on holidays? For most, holidays tend to be a time of excess: excess eating, excess buying, and excess drinking. It isn’t surprising then when people throw caution to the wind and act impulsively – on and off the road.

People’s behavior and choices are often influenced by social-environmental factors, specifically their friends or the hosts at the party and whether they encourage or discourage drinking and driving.

However, days of celebration, of joy, do not have to lead to tragedy. Follow these five tips to increase roadway safety:

  1. Plan ahead: Make sleeping or transportation arrangements ahead of time, with a clear mind. Stick to your plan, when alcohol starts to cloud your judgment
  2. Use the resources available to you: Call an Uber, a Lyft, or any non-drinking driver to ensure roadway safety for you and those around you. There are even apps designed specifically for alcohol-impaired drivers:
    • The Washington Regional Alcohol Program’s SoberRide offers free rides to impaired drivers on the deadliest days of the year: the December/January holiday season including New Year’s, Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day
    • NHTSA offers SaferRide, an app that is tailored for people who have been heavily drinking and need a safe ride home. SaferRide is extremely accessible, with only three buttons on the home page: Get Taxi, Call Friend, and Where Am I?
    • StearClear offers a designated driver team to help you home safely after drinking. One employee drives you in your own car, while the other employee follows behind.
  3. Set the right example: Whether you are a guest or a host of a party, don’t allow anyone you know to get behind the wheel after drinking. Make it clear that drinking and driving isn’t safe or acceptable – under any circumstance. Help others find safe accommodations.
  4. Enjoy without overdoing: Holidays are about joy, about spending time with the people you love most, but sometimes, that can get lost in the stress of it. It’s easy to overeat and binge drink. Make sure you are not drinking to hide or avoid how you really feel. Set healthy boundaries for yourself, and remember to practice self-care and ask for what you need when you need it.
  5. Look for signs of drunk driving: If you are driving when it is especially dangerous on the road (like on holidays), stay extra alert. Keep an eye out for cars that are exhibiting signs of impaired driving. Drivers that are struggling to stay in the center of the lane, swerving, continuously breaking for no reason, or displaying other signs of reckless driving could be intoxicated.

Methodology & Fair Use

We analyzed 2015-2019 fatal crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to find out which days of the year had the most fatal crashes where alcohol was a factor.

If you are interested in republishing any of the data, images, or interactive elements included above, please provide credit by linking to this page.