100 Deadly Days of Summer: What States Can Do to Reduce Automobile-Related Deaths

In America, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is typically indicative of the summer season. But summertime in the U.S. isn’t all about barbecues, swimming pools, and family vacations. There’s a darker side to the season as well: Traffic deaths tend to spike during this time, earning it the moniker “the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer.”

The phenomenon is especially prominent among teen drivers. According to the highway safety advocacy group We Save Lives, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and the summer months are the deadliest. During the season, car crash fatalities involving teens see an average increase of 26% compared to other months of the year. What’s more, the majority of those fatal crashes are preventable, with upwards of 60% caused by distracted driving.

Elderly drivers also rank among America’s most dangerous, and those over the age of 65 have unique health-related concerns that can equate to hazardous driving conditions. Unfortunately, although there are minimum age requirements for licensed drivers, the opposite doesn’t hold true. No state has an upper age limit; however, some have laws and licensing requirements in place for elderly drivers. Those age-specific regulations are intended to improve safety for everyone on the road.

For example,  in Georgia, eye exams are required for all driver license renewals among citizens over the age of 64. In Florida, however, eye exams aren’t compulsory until a driver reaches the age of 80. And in California, which reported the nation’s second-highest number of traffic fatalities in 2016, with 3,623, a written test and eye exam are mandatory for all license renewals for drivers aged 71 and over. 

It’s important for elderly drivers to be aware of their limitations when it comes to driving, no matter their state of residence. As for teen drivers, driver safety education is paramount, especially regarding the dangers of impaired and distracted driving. And for everyone on the road, the biggest opportunities to reduce traffic fatalities throughout the year can be found at the state level, from advocacy to increasing legal repercussions for unsafe driving. 

The Dangers of Summer Traffic: By the Numbers

Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May, and Labor Day is traditionally celebrated on the first Monday in September. The time period between those federal holidays encompasses an average of 99 days, or about 14 weeks. A disproportionate number of traffic accidents occur during this timeframe, many of which are fatal, especially when young drivers are behind the wheel.

Between 2013 and 2017, in fact, the so-called 100 Deadliest Days resulted in close to 3,500 automobile-related deaths involving teen drivers. In 28% of those fatal crashes, speeding contributed to the crash. In addition, both distracted and impaired driving are major factors in fatal car accidents between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

In an effort to reduce traffic-related fatalities, state legislators, law enforcement, and concerned citizens alike should work together towards educational efforts. 

One example of a successful collaboration regarding young driver awareness is Alive at 25, a 4.5-hour course for drivers aged 15-24. Within the program, young drivers are encouraged to develop roadway safety strategies and take responsibility for their actions behind the wheel. Alive at 25 is offered in six U.S. states, including California, Idaho, and Kentucky.

Regarding Road Rage, RVs, and Firearms

It’s important to note that, whatever the age of the at-fault driver, fatal vehicle crashes may involve automobiles and drivers, as well as pedestrians, cyclists, and/or motorcyclists. And in a disturbing recent trend, weapons may also come into play in motor vehicle accidents, most notably during the 100 Deadliest Days. The New York Times reports that incidents of road rage involving a firearm more than doubled between 2014 and 2016. 

Furthermore, studies indicate that violent and property crime rates increase during the summer months, excepting robbery and auto theft. Thus, data seems to suggest that gun violence is likely to spike over the 100 Deadliest Days, along with traffic-related fatalities, resulting in even more deaths and serious injuries. While the exact reasons remain unclear, researchers have proposed several theories on the factors that may contribute to the surge in violent crime during the summer months. Theories include the idea that high temperatures and long daylight hours often lead to larger amounts of people in public, providing increased opportunity for accidents and crime. 

To help curb the involvement of firearms in roadway incidents in the summer and throughout the year, states are essentially obligated to clarify their firearm transport laws and raise awareness about proper storage for guns in vehicles. This is an especially important consideration for recreational vehicle (RV) owners. While there are only about 10.5 million U.S. households that own at least one RV, for more than 1 million of those households, their RV doubles as their permanent residence.

For those living in their RV full-time, firearm ownership is common, for reasons including self-protection and sport hunting. About 40% of RV owners, in fact, carry a firearm with them at least some of the time. It’s essential that those traveling in an RV, whether on a summer vacation or as part of a nomadic lifestyle, understand their rights and responsibilities regarding firearm ownership when driving across state lines. And all drivers should remember it’s neither appropriate nor safe to brandish a weapon following a roadway incident.

Ways to Combat Automobile-Related Deaths

But firearms are at the unlikelier end of the spectrum when it comes to the possible causes of automobile accidents. Driver behavior is the biggest factor in the realm of roadway safety, and there are a number of particular actions that can directly contribute to car crashes. For example, texting and multi-tasking mean that a driver’s mind isn’t fully tuned into driving, increasing the risk of accidents.

Displaying aggressive behavior while behind the wheel is another safety-related red flag. Tailgating, speeding, and failing to use a turn signal are a few examples of unsafe and aggressive driving habits. Finally, impaired driving, especially impairment due to alcohol, is one of the biggest preventable causes of roadway fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 10,500 people died in 2016 as a result of a motor vehicle crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver. The annual economic cost of automobile accidents involving alcohol is more than $44 billion.

The issue of alcohol impairment on our nation’s roads is compounded in the wake of our modern alcohol abuse epidemic. Since 2000, alcohol abuse has reportedly increased by 50% in the U.S., and many of those who abuse alcohol end up behind the wheel. Therefore, alcohol awareness campaigns are vital to the reduction of automobile-related deaths throughout the year. When coupled with teen driver awareness courses, transparency regarding in-vehicle firearm regulations, and distracted driving education, we may begin to see a reduction in automobile-related deaths, at both the state and federal levels.

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