The Fourth of July may be a time of barbecues, fireworks and flag-waving, but it's also one of the deadliest driving days for motorists, according to a federal road safety group.
More than 800 people died on Independence Day from 2006 to 2010, according to an analysis of the most recent crash data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), says Russ Rader, the senior vice president of communications for IIHS.
If annual projections materialize, the institute estimates that as many as 140 people could lose their lives this year on July 4. That compares to the average of 93 daily deaths due to car crashes in 2009, the most recent date for which data is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a previous study of fatal crash data from 1986 to 2002, the IIHS found that, on average, 100 people died each day from car wrecks, and that July 4 had an average of 12 more deaths than any other day of the year.
Beyond the holiday, the entire month of July is dangerous for motorists. The IIHS says that 241 drivers and passengers died in California accidents alone in July 2010. "July trends as one of the deadliest months on the road for drivers," says the IIHS statement.
Teens are especially at risk on July 4 due to driving distractions, especially texting, says the Allstate Foundation, a branch of Allstate that focuses on raising awareness of road safety issues. (See: "Video study: teen girls twice as likely to text, talk.")
Teenagers account for almost 10 percent of the fatalities that are the result of car accidents occurring on July 4, according to the Allstate Foundation. (See: "Don't let your teen become a crash-test dummy.")
Why is Independence Day so hazardous for teenagers? Tully Lehman, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC), says there are several reasons.
"You have to realize, first off, that teens are typically less experienced drivers" and more susceptible to mishandling dangers that come from crowded highways, says Lehman. "There are a lot of distractions, like thinking about going to a party, which pulls their attention off the road.
"And speeding also plays a role. There are a lot of reasons why the Fourth is a dangerous day for teens, and it extends into all the summer months as well."
Rader agrees, adding a significant element to the list: "Another factor is alcohol," he says. "A greater proportion of fatal crashes (for teens and adults) overall involve alcohol on July 4 than on a typical day."
The Allstate Foundation also notes that car crashes are "the number one cause of death for everyone ages 1 to 34," and teens are involved in deadly accidents "four times more often than any other age group."
Recent foundation research on teen drivers found that 49 percent admit that texting is the biggest distraction they face behind the wheel. (See: "Wrong way! 5 outdated driving tips parents teach teens.")
The IINC and the Allstate Foundation suggest parents take steps to ensure their teens drive more safely:
Most insurers and insurance groups, including the Allstate Foundation and the IINC, also support graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs. GDLs phase in driving experience for younger drivers, allowing beginners to gain experience under lower-risk driving situations first, before they gradually move on to more complex conditions later. The graduated period in most states starts at age 15 or 16 and progresses to a full driver's license by the time the teen reaches 17. (See: "Adding a teen to my car insurance policy is how much?")
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