Just recently, the annual statistics on the worst states for drivers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season were released by ValuePenguin, an online source for financial information including auto insurers, with Mississippi leading the way followed by South Dakota, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Alabama rounding out the worst 5. How can this information help us the rest of the year?
It may be surprising to some of us Bay State motorists who often deal with insane drivers on the turnpike and other roads that Massachusetts ranked 49th. We were only beaten out by Rhode Island and New York as the safest states as Washington D.C. was included in the statistics. But before we get too complacent and pleased with ourselves, remember that Bay State drivers are among the worst for using seatbelts. We hope that recent legislation making failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense now will lead to increased compliance. This means that a traffic officer can now stop and cite you for simply failing to buckle up rather than having you commit some other traffic violation first.
Why Mississippi? Being the poorest state in the union may be a prime factor since the state has fewer resource than other states to maintain its roads or to implement safe driving campaigns. Mississippi also ranks the highest or worst state for teen driving fatalities. Alcoholism and rampant opioid drug use may also be major reasons for the high rates of road deaths in states with large rural populations like Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina that was 6th. Florida was ranked 10th worst.
South Dakota, number two on the list, has drivers who should be intimately familiar with the harsh winters that produce substantial snowfalls and icy roads, but its sparse population and unique topography does not make its roads any safer. Some feel that the hazardous Black Hills contributes to the high rates of deaths, but its long and dreary winters may induce heavier drinking and drug use.
The culture in some of the riskiest states for unsafe driving may also be a factor in why these states, generally with much lower populations than the safest states, suffer more car fatalities per capita. Drinking and driving, speeding, and partying during the winter holidays seem to increase at this time, perhaps moreso than in other states.
Driving and Holiday Cheer During Covid
In past blogs, we pointed out that Covid, quarantines, and the shuddering of businesses and schools may have led to less traffic congestion, but the quarantines have conversely led to increased speeding violations and traffic fatalities in our state among many others. As many of our clients have noted, with fewer cars on the roadways, motorists have taken the opportunity to speed with impunity. Many states have reported a substantial increase in speeding tickets for motorists traveling over 100 mph. Obviously, speeding is a major contributor to traffic accidents and fatalities.
Also, fewer law enforcement vehicles on state roads and interstates have given motorists more confidence that they can get away with speeding, reckless driving, and drinking. In addition, you cannot ignore the depression, isolation, and anxiety that the pandemic has engendered that may have prompted drivers to drink and drive recklessly.
Worst Times to Drive During the Holidays
The statistics on the worst states for holiday driving reveal the worst times for driving that all of us may wish to avoid if we do not want to have flowers placed in our memory at the side of a road disaster. Factors to take into consideration include:
- Alcohol—Driving at any time just before and up to Thanksgiving and up to Christmas Day is hazardous since alcohol consumption increases significantly at this time. Although not as prevalent as in past years, office and other parties where drinking takes place as well as at family gatherings increase the risk of being in an accident. During this period, alcohol-related traffic deaths increase by 22% over Thanksgiving and by 26% over Christmas than during other days. Be aware, though, that Memorial Day is the worst by far with 40% of all traffic deaths attributed to drinking.
- Time of day—Not surprisingly, nighttime driving during wintry weather is the most hazardous time to drive. There was a 22% increase in nighttime driving deaths over Thanksgiving and a 28% increase over Christmas than on other days during the year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cited poor weather, icy roads, limited visibility, and higher incidence of drinking that accounts for the increase in nighttime driving deaths.
- Speed, Fatigue, and Distractions—Actually, these factors that are major contributors to accident fatalities in general only increase slightly during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Roadways—the majority of traffic deaths over any time of the year occur on interstates and local streets. There was little statistical difference over the holidays.
- Weather—Weather accounted for more traffic mishaps over Christmas than during Thanksgiving, which is not surprising. Fog, smoke, and smog were cited in more accidents over Christmas than during Thanksgiving. Cloudy weather and mist accounted for slightly more accidents in late December than in late November.
Travel Suggestions for the Holidays
Fortunately, the arrival of Covid vaccines may, at least in time for the summer, result in less speeding violations and fewer accidents as we return to more normal times. But there are some suggestions that you can take that can make the next holiday driving less hazardous regardless of the pandemic:
- Upgrade your insurance coverage—if you lack collision or comprehensive coverage, then you may find it difficult to be compensated in a single car accident caused by ice or other winter condition.
- Get roadside assistance—AAA is the most popular, but credit card companies, insurance companies, and car dealerships may offer roadside assistance as well. Check to see what they offer, and what restrictions they have.
- Winterize you car—install snow tires, check your antifreeze, heater, and overall engine condition. Be prepared for a breakdown by stocking water bottles, blankets, flashlight, batteries, jumper cables, ice scraper, and flares in your trunk.
- Are there any Covid Restrictions?—if Covid is still out there, then you need to research the restrictions imposed by the state where you are driving to. For example, you may have to show proof of a recent Covid test, that you need to quarantine for a time after arrival, and that you must present proof of a negative Covid test before you can leave quarantine.
- Avoid nighttime driving—leave early in the morning or after 6 a.m. You should also check the weather in case you run into a major weather event.
- Hire a Lyft or designate a driver—if going to any event where there will be drinking, refrain from driving. Have a designated driver who will not be drinking or simply use a ride-share service.
Damages in Fatal Car Accidents
In a fatal car accident case, the administrator for the decedent’s estate may bring a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver on behalf of the decedent’s immediate family members. Damages in wrongful death claims typically include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses, if any, that were incurred before death
- Lost earnings
- Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered
- Loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, counsel, and guidance
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent, or willful and wanton
Punitive damages are only available if awarded by a judge or jury and are not covered by insurance. Not all death cases warrant punitive damages nor are they easy to collect. Consult a car accident attorney about this element of damages.
Retain a Car Accident Attorney From Burns and Jain
Wrongful death claims often present complex issues of liability, insurance coverage, and proof of damages that only an experienced car accident attorney can handle. If you were injured or a loved one was injured or killed in a car accident, contact the law offices of Burns and Jain at (617) 286-3594 for a free, in-depth discussion of your injury accident or wrongful death claim.