Will Your Holiday ‘Sleigh Ride’ Be Marred by an Auto Crash? A Look at Drunk Driving and Other Crash Statistics

The AAA is forecasting that travel this holiday season will be the busiest in U.S. history, with a record-breaking 104.8 million people hitting the roads between Saturday, Dec. 21 and Wednesday, Jan. 1. That is 3.9 million more people compared with last year. With so many people “packing up their sleighs for a holiday getaway,” as the AAA put it, what are the chances that you will fall victim to a car accident?

Drunk Driving Risks

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), drunk driving crashes increase throughout December as people travel and attend events where alcohol is served. Last year, 108 lives were lost in drunk driving crashes on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, accounting for nearly half of total traffic deaths for those two days alone. Drunk driving deaths typically represent around a third of all traffic fatalities, according to MADD, so the uptick was considerable.

Last year on Christmas alone, 35 people died in drunk driving crashes.

Here in the Keystone State, in 2018 state police arrested 406 people for driving under the influence during the four-day New Year’s holiday enforcement period from Dec. 29 through Jan. 1. They investigated 642 crashes over the long weekend. Of the collisions investigated, 64 involved alcohol, 155 people were injured, and four people were killed in four fatal crashes. One of the fatal collisions involved alcohol.

Note that state police statistics do not include incidents investigated by local police departments in Pennsylvania.

Warning Signs from Thanksgiving

If this past Thanksgiving holiday is any indicator, you should brace for an onslaught of drunk drivers. Pennsylvania State Police report that from Nov. 27 through Dec. 1, they investigated 1,116 crashes, 73 of which were alcohol-related. Of the alcohol-related crashes, one was fatal. State police made 729 DUI arrests over the long holiday weekend ― a whopping 14 percent increase from the 637 DUI arrests made during the same period in 2018.

With respect to the 1,116 crashes, seven of them took the lives of eight people. Some 247 people were injured. The eight fatalities was double, compared with 2018’s four fatalities.

Again, the state police statistics do not include incidents investigated by local police departments.

National Crash Statistics

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there will be 799 motor vehicle traffic crashes this year during the Christmas to New Year’s Day period, which it calculates as 8.5 days from Tuesday, Dec. 24 at 6:00 p.m. to Thursday, Jan. 2 at 5:59 a.m. By way of comparison, NHTSA reports that in 2017, there were 978 motor vehicle traffic crash fatalities during a 10.5-day holiday period. Note that the holiday period was longer in 2017 because it encompassed two weekends.

Pennsylvania Statistics

PennDOT in its “2018 Pennsylvania Crash Facts & Statistics Report” reports for 2018 a total of 726 crashes with two fatalities during the pre-Christmas/Christmas period and 1,912 crashes with 13 fatalities for the New Year’s/Post New Year’s period.

Safety Tips for Holiday Driving

Sage advice from the National Safety Council on staying safe on U.S. roadways includes:

  • Practicing defensive driving
  • Appointing a designated, sober driver
  • Avoiding fatigued driving
  • Avoiding distracted driving, including cellphone use and texting
  • Buckling your seatbelt
  • Ensuring that your vehicle is in good working order and does not have any open recalls

The council further notes that the consumption of marijuana (which is legal in some states) and opioid painkillers can “impact judgment, reflexes and cognitive dexterity, increasing the risk of death and injury behind the wheel.”


We wish everyone a joyous and safe holiday and a happy New Year. Be safe when riding your “sleigh.”