One of the most deadly months of the year on the highways, July, is now in the rear view mirror, historical patterns show. But the most dangerous months on the roadways are on the horizon that lies ahead. It’s August, of course. Surprisingly, August is followed by the slightest of deathly margins by October, the first full month of fall, not July, as in the past, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic. It is a marked variation in long-term patterns a generation earlier, say from 1974 to 2002, with the monthly motor vehicle crash fatalities topping in July and August. Historically, the “Dog Days of Summer” are the deadliest days of the year on the nation’s ribbon of highways, as travel volume on highways, streets and roads soars to the highest levels of the year and more Americans hit U.S. roads on their midsummer jaunts of an average distance of 50 to 249 miles one-way. Yet October has dethroned July of late.
That was the case in the seven-year span of time from 2010 to 2016, when more persons perished in traffic crashes in August than in any other month of the year. In the most recent annals, however, October has emerged as the “new July” as an exceedingly dangerous time on the roadways. In fact, during this time, October edged out July as the second most deadly month on the highways, albeit it by the slightest fraction in vehicle-related deaths, for a difference of 108 fatalities. That’s notwithstanding the fact that the Fourth of July is singularly the “deadliest driving day of the year.” That was the case between 1998 and 2014, when July 4th posted an average of 161 crash deaths nationwide, compared to 106 traffic fatalities on an average day of year. By a hairsbreadth, October was the deadliest motor-vehicle crash month of the year in 2016, plus in 2014.
“Why October? So far, there is no clear consensus on the question of the disturbing rise in traffic deaths in October among traffic safety advocates and researchers,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Here is a working theory. Historically, for pedestrians, ‘January 1 and October 31’ were the ‘two most deadly days of the year,’ having the highest number of pedestrian fatalities. October 31, Halloween, when the number of pedestrian fatalities quadruples, and October 26, have historically ranked among the days of the year with most pedestrian deaths. An average of 401 pedestrian deaths transpired on October 31, and 350 pedestrian deaths occurred on October 26.”
In contrast, consistently fewer persons died in February, during the dead of winter, in the United States in the seven-year period. To derive these deadly trends, AAA Mid-Atlantic analyzed motor vehicle crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and provisional estimates by the National Safety Council (NSC).
During this period, America mourned the loss of nearly 240,000 loved ones, friends, and acquaintances in the undertow of crashes and carnage on the rivulets of roads, streets and highways across the country, the data from the three entities reveal. Millions more had their lives upended by serious injuries and trauma sustained on highways from 2010 to 2016. For perspective, that is four times the number of names etched on the iconic black marble slabs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The wall contains the names of 58,318 fallen and unaccounted for U.S. service members in the conflict in Vietnam /South East Asia from 1964 to 1973.
Overall, more persons lost their lives in traffic crashes in the month of August, which experienced 22,370 highway deaths from 2010 to 2016, followed closely by October with a highway death toll of 22,107 persons, and July, which experienced 21,999 roadway fatalities from 2010 to 2016. In this same period of time, 15,567 persons perished in crashes in the frost of February. Historically, in most years, highway fatalities plateau during the summer months, with millions of Americans in family vehicles crisscrossing the country to their summer-tide whereabouts, an average round-trip of less than 500 miles, followed by a downward trend after September, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA).
However, an autumnal increase in traffic fatalities occurred in the 31 days of October, as the tenth month of the calendar manifested itself as an outlier in 2014 and 2016, supplanting July and August as the topmost deadly four weeks during the twelve divisions of the calendar year. During those years, more persons lost their lives on the nation’s highways in the tenth month of the year, slightly overtopping its seventh month.
At the onset of this decade, July was deadlier than August and October, as was the case in 2010, 2011 and 2012. By contrast, in the period from 1975 to 2002, for example, monthly crash fatalities peaked in July and August, naturally coinciding with peak monthly increases in vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) during the two months, according to NCSA data. It is axiomatic, “more driving can contribute to higher fatality rates,” warns NHTSA. Other factors leading to increased driving include job growth and low fuel prices, notes AAA Travel. That means the odds of being involved in a fatal crash increases in the summer season, noted for its elevated mileage. During 2015, America racked up the highest VMT in 25 years. VMT is trending upward in 2017.
A deviation in the monthly concave patterns occurred during 2016, according to provisional estimates by the National Safety Council (NSC), which concedes its figures are not comparable to NHTSA’s by accounting. All told, 40,200 persons died in motor vehicles crashes in 2016, compared to 35,398 highway deaths two years earlier in 2014, the NSC projected. Last year, 2016, saw more persons dying in October (3,790 highway deaths) than in August (3,740 highway deaths), a difference of 50 persons or in July (3,560 highway deaths), which witnessed 230 fewer traffic deaths than October. In contrast, from 1986-2002, October averaged 126 traffic deaths a day, compared to 132 per day in August and 129 each day in July.
The deadliest days of the week on highways in the United States occur on the weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to IIHS data. By the day of the week, nearly half (49 percent) of all highway deaths took place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during 2015, making those days the most dangerous days to drive. The deadliest day during the week is Saturday, the last day of the week, accounting for 18 percent of fatal crashes (6,193 deaths), followed by the first day of the week, Sunday (5,787 deaths or 16 percent), which does not have a lot of freeway traffic, and Friday (5,263 or 15 percent), when more people leave their workplace earlier for their weekend getaway and head to the market on freeways during the Friday afternoon rush hour. Nationwide, Friday also has the worst evening rush hour of the week, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.