New Year’s Day might be a great day to stay home. It’s annually one of the deadliest days on American roads. Drunk drivers are largely responsible for an annual spike in traffic deaths every January 1 that make the holiday the second-deadliest day on the calendar, only behind the Fourth of July. An average of 118 motorists are killed every New Year’s Day, according to statistics compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Over a five-year period measured by the organization’s researchers, 54 percent of the January 1 deaths were related to drunk driving. As a percentage, that’s the highest of any day on the calendar, surpassing the 42 percent of fatalities historically caused by drunks on July 4. On average, drunk drivers are involved in 31 percent of all traffic fatalities, per the latest federal statistics released last month.
More or less, that percentage has remained unchanged for more than a decade. Drunk driving deaths have accounted for roughly a third of all traffic deaths since the mid-1990s. They fell 1.1 percent in 2014, but nonetheless claimed 9,967 lives. More than two-thirds of those deaths occurred in crashes in which at least one driver had a blood alcohol concentration of .15 – double the legal limit, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Earlier this month, NHTSAunveiled a new slate of public-service announcements that warn against drunk driving; they are scheduled to air through the weekend.
As drunk drivers proliferate on New Year’s Day, so do grim statistics for pedestrians. January 1 is tied with Halloween as the deadliest day on the calendar for pedestrian deaths in crashes, according to new IIHS figures based on a five-year study of traffic deaths between 2008 and 2012. An average of 20.2 pedestrians die each New Year’s, a 50.9 percent increase over the current daily average of 13.3.
It’s likely the deadly toll will rise higher this year. Although the numbers are preliminary, NHTSA officials and other safety advocates have forecast an 8 to 14 percent increase in traffic fatalities. Either figure would mark the largest one-year jump in decades. Those numbers won’t be finalized until the end of 2016. For now, if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution headed into the holiday, how about don’t drink and drive.