Thanksgiving is a time for expressing gratitude, spending time with loved ones, and eating so much turkey and stuffing that you think you’re going to be sick. But before you stuff your face with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, you have to actually get to your family and friends. Around 48.7 million Americans will travel this Thanksgiving, and 89% of those travelers will drive to their destination.1
We wondered if traveling during Thanksgiving is more dangerous than an average weekend. And if there are more accidents over the Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to know where these car accidents are occurring. To find out, we analyzed fatal crash data over three years using FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).1,2,3 You can read more about our methodology by clicking here.
Thanksgiving travel is risky—but not as risky as you might think
Traveling during Thanksgiving is more dangerous than travel on an average weekend, but Thanksgiving isn’t the most dangerous holiday for travelers.
According to our research, there’s a 19% increase in accidents during Thanksgiving compared to a typical weekend. However, Labor Day is the most dangerous holiday for accidents. Between 2014 and 2016, there were 429 fatal Labor Day car crashes, which is about 16% more than there were on Thanksgiving.1,2,3
Alcohol-impaired driving causes 29% of fatal car accidents, so if you’re planning on indulging in some wine with your Thanksgiving feast, don’t get behind the wheel.2
Speeding is also a huge issue, and it’s the primary cause of 28% of fatal accidents. It’s always important to follow the speed limit, but even more so during the holidays where roads are more congested than usual.2
Thanksgiving weekend accidents mapped
*2016 FARS data
Thanksgiving travel safety across the US
Where are people going over Thanksgiving? Which destinations are more dangerous? Let’s look at the data.
- Orlando, New York City, and Philadelphia are popular Thanksgiving travel destinations, but all three cities are also some of the most dangerous places to travel over the holiday.
- Houston, TX is the most dangerous city in the US for Thanksgiving travel.
- Las Vegas, NV is the most popular city to visit over Thanksgiving. When some people think turkey with Grandma, it looks like others think Texas Hold‘em.
- California is one of the most popular states for Thanksgiving travel. We get it. That California sunshine sounds lovely.
- Lots of people head to Orlando and Anaheim over Thanksgiving. Is it a coincidence that these two cities are home to some of the happiest places on earth? Probably not.
Thanksgiving travel by city
Heading to sunny Florida during the cold winter months sounds appealing, but Orlando is also one of the most dangerous cities to travel to during the holiday. It looks like alligators aren’t the only reason to rethink your holiday plans. If you do head to one of the cities with more Thanksgiving weekend fatalities, research your route before you drive, pay close attention to the cars around you, make sure you aren’t sleepy when you drive—and of course—buckle up.
|Most popular cities for Thanksgiving travel||Most dangerous cities for Thanksgiving travel*|
|1. Las Vegas, NV||1. Houston, TX|
|2. San Francisco, CA||2. Los Angeles, CA|
|3. San Diego, CA||3. Orlando, FL|
|4. Orlando, FL||4. Atlanta, GA|
|5. New York City, NY||5. Greensboro, NC|
|6. New Orleans, LA||6. Philadelphia, PA|
|7. Anaheim, CA||7. New York, NY|
|8. Fort Lauderdale, FL||8. Columbus, OH|
|9. Philadelphia, PA||9. Chicago, IL|
|10. Seattle, WA||10. Greenville, SC|
|Most dangerous cities for Thanksgiving travel*|
|1. Houston, TX|
|2. Los Angeles, CA|
|3. Orlando, FL|
|4. Atlanta, GA|
|5. Greensboro, NC|
|6. Philadelphia, PA|
|7. New York, NY|
|8. Columbus, OH|
|9. Chicago, IL|
|10. Greenville, SC|
*Based on 3-year average of total fatalities2,3,4
Safest cities for Thanksgiving travel
Some cities have a history of being safer over Thanksgiving weekend.
- West Point, MS
- Baton Rouge, LA
- Lawton, OK
- Clarksburg, WV
- Marshall, TX
|Safest states for Thanksgiving travel*||Deadliest states for Thanksgiving travel*|
|Rhode Island | (45 deaths) 0.13% of total fatalities||Texas | (3,516 deaths) 10.02% of total fatalities|
|Vermont | (57 deaths) 0.16% of total fatalities||California | (3,176 deaths) 9.05% of total fatalities|
|Alaska | (65 deaths) 0.19% of total fatalities||Florida | (2,939) 8.38% of total fatalities|
|Hawaii | (94 deaths) 0.27% of total fatalities||Georgia | (1430) 4.08% of total fatalities|
|New Hampshire | (114 deaths) 0.32% of total fatalities||North Carolina | (1379) 3.98% of total fatalities|
|Deadliest states for Thanksgiving travel*|
|Texas | (3,516 deaths) 10.02% of total fatalities|
|California | (3,176 deaths) 9.05% of total fatalities|
|Florida | (2,939) 8.38% of total fatalities|
|Georgia | (1430) 4.08% of total fatalities|
|North Carolina | (1379) 3.98% of total fatalities|
*Based on 3-year average of total fatalities2,3,4
- Wyoming doesn’t show up on the list of deadliest states, but you should still be very careful if your travel plans take you through the state. The data above is based on total number of fatalities. But if you factor in population, Wyoming could be considered the most dangerous state in the country for Thanksgiving travel. The state has the smallest population, but the highest number of vehicle fatalities per capita over Thanksgiving weekend.2
- Utah had the lowest percentage of alcohol-related driving fatalities in both 2015 and 2016. The state also has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the country. While these laws may frustrate tourists, Utah might be on to something.
Give thanks for safety this holiday with these travel tips
- Always wear your seatbelt and make sure your kids are buckled properly. This should be obvious by now, but we’re saying it anyway because it is important.
Use Google Maps or another GPS device to plan your route beforehand so you’re not fumbling with your phone to find directions while on the road.
- Don’t speed. It’s better to be late and alive then to speed and risk hurting yourself or someone else in a car crash. Grandma Glenda will understand if you’re a tiny bit late to Thanksgiving dinner.
- Saturday is the most dangerous day to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday,3 so consider driving home on Friday or Sunday when the roads are less crowded.
- Filling up on turkey, mashed potatoes, and grandma’s homemade rolls can leave you drowsy, so take a nap before you hit the road. Drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes and at least 800 deaths in 2013 alone.6 Make frequent stops and rotate drivers if possible. If you start to feel your eyelids droop, play it safe. Find a hotel and continue your journey after a good night’s rest.
- Never drive impaired. Even if that means you need to say no to your pushy Aunt Myrtle who insists on refilling your wine class. (Come on, Myrtle, you’ve had three already!)
- Turn on your headlights as the sun begins to set. Other vehicles will be able to see you better, and you will have a better view of the road. You should also use your headlights if it is raining or snowing.
- Keep an emergency preparedness kit in your car in case there is an accident. You can find a list of everything you need right here.
Is there anything we missed? What steps will you take this Thanksgiving holiday to stay safe while on the road?
Sources and methodology
1. Boston Globe, “What Google Says Are the Best and Worst Times to Drive during Thanksgiving Week”
2. NHTSA, “FARS Encyclopedia”
3. NHTSA, “Traffic Safety Facts”
4. NHTSA, “Quick Facts 2016”
5. AAA, “48.7 Million Americans to Travel this Thanksgiving”
6. CDC, “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel”
We compiled fatal crash data from 2014–2016 to find the average number of accidents and fatalities per state and per holiday. We compared these numbers to several other factors, including city, day of the week, cause of crash, and the type of vehicle or person involved. We used three days’ worth of data for each associated holiday and compared those numbers with an average of non-holiday weekend crashes to determine the most dangerous travel destinations and the increased risks associated with Thanksgiving and other holiday travel. We also used AAA data to find the most popular destinations during Thanksgiving.