The Labor Day weekend ranks among the busiest travel times of the year with millions of vehicles on the road. It’s also one of the deadliest, and this weekend could be even worse.
An average of 373 fatal crashes occur during the three-day weekend and claim an average of 407 lives across the country, according to a GateHouse Media analysis of a decade of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The decade spans from 2008 to 2017, the latest year available.
That’s nearly one-third more fatal accidents than what occurs during a typical three-day period, the analysis found.
In 2017 alone, 354 fatal car accidents occurred during the Labor Day weekend, leaving 374 people dead.
Texas, Florida and California ranked the top three deadliest states with 39, 35 and 32 lives lost in 2017 Labor Day weekend crashes, respectively. Per capita, the deadliest states were Vermont, Iowa and Mississippi.
And those numbers could climb this week. The National Safety Council estimates 398 people may die in crashes this Labor Day weekend.
“There are more car crashes during the holidays, because there are just more people on the road,” said Josh Crowley, a personal injury attorney at Texas-based Carlson Law Firm. “You just have more opportunities for car wrecks.”
The law firm received 85 calls for crashes the week after Labor Day last year. It received 113 calls the week after that, Crowley said, explaining that many motorists wait about a week or two after a wreck before contacting any attorney.
That’s compared to around 78 car-crash-related calls during an average week.
“Most people will never have to do anything more dangerous than driving a vehicle,” Crowley said.
Experts advise motorists to be extra vigilant and wear seat belts, which saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“They are 45% effective in preventing fatalities,” said Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council. “Just one moment. It takes a moment before you start moving the car to buckle up, and it helps to keep you safe throughout the entire drive.”
Hui Tong, a recent graduate from Columbia Journalism School in New York, credited a seat belt for saving his life when his car overturned in 2015 while driving through Alaska.
Since then, Tong said, he reminds himself to buckle up. He said will do it again this weekend during a solo road trip through Arizona and New Mexico.
“I prepared my eye drops and an on-the-road music playlist,” he said.
The national average gas price currently stands at $2.59 per gallon. If it maintains, it would be the cheapest Labor Day average in three years, according to AAA. Last year's average was $2.83.
The lower prices could entice more people to travel during what many consider the unofficial start of fall, said AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano.
“People are excited to get in their final road trip for the summer,” she said.
Many states plan to increase Labor Day law enforcement for drunk and drug driving.
Nearly 150 additional Driving Under the Influence patrols will be out in Washington alone this holiday weekend to reduce fatalities, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission announced.
Alabama also will increase its presence of troopers along the interstates, said its state Law Enforcement Agency. Ditto in Massachusetts, according to its State Police agency.
Similarly, NHTSA’s $13 million media campaign used various news outlets to deliver their safe driving messages ahead of the Labor Day weekend.
Although drunk-driving-related deaths have fallen over the past three decades, there were still more than 10,000 people killed by alcohol-related crashes in 2017.
According to NHTSA, an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurs every 48 minutes.
“Call us up,” said John Hopkins, an Uber driver in Sarasota, Florida. “The single most important thing is to not drink and drive, especially on Labor Day.”
Hopkins said he plans to work Labor Day weekend, because “there would be more business, I think.”
Mike Crearer, the owner of Mike’s Auto Body Shop in Orlando, Florida — home of Universal Studios and Disney World — said he anticipates clogged roads as families take advantage of theme parks during the extended weekend.
Many also expect to see a heavier police presence.
That’s indeed the plan throughout the Sunshine State, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Yanko Reyes. All on-duty officers will be patrolling the interstates, he said.
“If the citizens are traveling, they see police presence, they feel safer,” Reyes said. “And, obviously, they tend to make sure they themselves are not committing any infractions.”
“Enjoy the holiday,” he added,” but do it in a safe way.”