NSC Estimates 485 Fatalities May Occur on Roadways During Thanksgiving Holiday Period

It could be deadliest Thanksgiving since 2008 – but defensive driving can save lives.

November 19, 2020

Itasca, IL – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to disturbing traffic safety trends this year, and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday period may not be an exception. The National Safety Council estimates that as many as 485 people may be killed on the roads during the four-day Thanksgiving Holiday period, and another 55,300 may be seriously injured in crashes. The estimate is the highest the Council has issued for the Thanksgiving holiday period since 2008. If it holds, it would be the highest number of fatalities the U.S. has experienced for a Thanksgiving holiday period in just as long. 

NSC monthly analysis has shown that the roads have become deadlier despite less traffic. While the number of fatalities dropped dramatically in the spring, the U.S. experienced a significant rise in the death rate – a statistic that shows how safe the roads are at any given time. In the first six months of 2020, the death rate was 20% higher than during the same period in 2019, despite a 17% drop in miles driven between January and June. Overall, fatalities are up an estimated 5% through September, with about 30,390 people killed since January.

This year’s Thanksgiving holiday period estimate is subject to enhanced volatility, with a wider statistical confidence interval than usual, because of trends in 2020.

“We’ve noted several times this year that open roads should not be an open invitation for reckless driving,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “We urge drivers to remain vigilant about their own safety if they decide to travel. If every driver would slow down, buckle up, drive sober and pay attention, we could have a holiday of zero fatalities, which is the only acceptable number.” 

Alcohol often is a major factor in fatal crashes during holiday weekends, including Thanksgiving. In 2018 – the most recent year for data – 31% of fatal crashes during the holiday period involved an alcohol-impaired driver. 

Tips for safer Thanksgiving travel include: 

  • Practice defensive driving. Buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation, get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, and drive attentively, avoiding distractions
  • Recognize the dangers of drugged driving, including impairment from cannabis, opioids and other substances
  • Stay engaged in teens’ driving habits with tips from DriveitHOME.org
  • Learn about your vehicle’s safety systems and how to use them – resources are available at MyCarDoesWhat.org
  • Fix recalls immediately, and find out if your vehicle is impacted by using ChecktoProtect.org 
  • Get involved in the Road to Zero Coalition, a group of more than 1,500 organizations across the country focused on eliminating roadway deaths by 2050. Visit nsc.org/roadtozero to join.  

Supplemental traffic fatality estimates information can be found here


About the National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate – and has been for over 100 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing our efforts on the workplace, roadway and impairment. We create a culture of safety to not only keep people safer at work, but also beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.

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