Fourth of July Road Safety Tips


How to stay safe while you're getting to and from all those Independence Day celebrations.

sparklers american flag
6 min read

Everyone loves the Fourth of July. Hot dogs, fireworks, summer sun, and a celebration of our Independence—what could be better? Folks at The Zebra plan on celebrating in style: Flying home to see their families, hosting barbecues, or wandering around downtown Austin, seeing what trouble they can get into avoid.

But before you dive headfirst into the pool celebrating, we suggest you digest this unfortunate but important fact: The Fourth of July is actually the deadliest driving day of the year. (Yup, more even than New Year’s Day.) All that celebrating means a correlative amount of unsafe and drunk driving. We reached out to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s senior vice president of communications, Russ Rader, for more specifics. Turns out, between 2008 – 2012, an average of 127 people died each Fourth of July in auto accidents. (By contrast, on January 2nd of the same four years, the country recorded an average of 67 auto fatalities.)

“The Fourth of July is the deadliest day on American roads,” Rader says. “A lot of people are driving that day so the odds of serious crashes occurring is higher. That is coupled with riskier driving: The proportion of crash deaths involving alcohol is higher on the Fourth than on a typical summer day.”

An average of 127 people die each 4th of July in auto accidents.

There are some basic steps you can take to mitigate your risk this weekend, Rader says. “The way to stay safe is to follow common sense: Don’t speed or drink and drive, and always wear your safety belt.” But we went a step beyond basic, breaking down some Fourth of July safety advice into two categories: Home and Away.

Going on a road trip?

hand driving

Don’t forget the beef jerky! Or the following tips:

Make sure your vehicle is in good road trip condition

That means checking tire pressure, oil, washer fluid, and/or this handy list we put together a few weeks back. Also pack a road safety kit and an old-fashioned map, just in case.

Keep Distractions at Bay

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Don’t text and drive. Or Facebook and drive, or curl your eyelashes and drive, or reach around to wallop someone and drive. Get your playlists or podcasts pre-loaded, or designate the front passenger as the Keeper of the Electronics. Let your copilot tell you how many Instagram likes you’ve racked up. Your job, as driver, is to drive like a boss.

Driver. That's you.
Driver. That’s you.

Expect Delays

AAA predicts that 2014 Independence Day travel will be up 1.9 percent over last year—they estimate 41 million people will hit the road or take to the skies. All that hustle and bustle and to and fro means you’re also bound to get caught in a traffic jam or two. Plan on it, and account for it in your traveling schedule. Then, if you happen to catch a lucky break, you’ll feel happy, but if instead you hit a sea of brake lights, you won’t compromise safety (or lose your cool).

Heading to a party?

We'll be right over.
We’ll be right over.

You go, Glen Coco! Grab some sparklers, a flag, and your best pals. But also read these tips to prepare:

Don’t drink and drive

This one is so straightforward, it seems like a no brainer. But it’s worth repeating anyway, because it’s still a such a problem: MADD reports that 2012 drunk driving fatalities actually increased by 4.6 percent over 2011. Drivers who are drunk or otherwise impaired tend to drive faster than normal, and also to overestimate their skills, explains the New York Times. If you’re at all uncertain, refuse to get behind the wheel. Even better, designate a driver at the start of the evening, so there’s no confusion or arguments at the end of the night.

Drive defensively—and take your time

There’s the kind of driving you do when you’re in your neighborhood, and then the kind of driving you do when you’re in your neighborhood and it’s Halloween and there are kids and cars and black cats everywhere. Treat the Fourth of July like the latter: Assume that any other driver around you might not be as with it as you are, and drive accordingly. Don’t depend on other drivers, keep safety in mind at all times, pay extra care to your surroundings, slow down, and separate yourself from risks as much as possible.

Night driving=risky.
Night driving=risky.

Consider leaving a bit early

My dad always said that nothing good happens after midnight, and I long ago mastered the art of the Irish goodbye at a party’s peak. The same is true of driving. According to Forbes, nationwide, 49 percent of fatal crashes happen at night, with a fatality rate per mile of travel about three times as high as daytime hours. During the day, just eighteen percent of fatal crashes involve alcohol, but that number skyrockets to 54 percent of crashes at night. And really, what are you going to miss, anyway? Your uncle yammering on about his high school glory days or a game of beer pong that’s gotten entirely too competitive?

If you can avoid it, don’t drive at all!

If you have public transportation options in your city, check them out! Also check to see if Uber or Lyft are available for you—they’re often cheaper than a cab, and then you’ve got a designated driver taken care of. Plus, Uber is partnering with MADD this Independence Day holiday, so if you request a ride on the 4th, they’ll donate $1 per ride ($10 for new riders!) to help prevent drunk driving. Or, if you can’t bear the thought of leaving a party early, why not plan on staying overnight? Either way, keeping yourself off the roads all together is your surest bet for safety.

Be safe out there, and Happy Independence Day from The Zebra!

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I'm a Texas-based Kansan who misses seasons but loves breakfast tacos. My journalism and short stories have been published all over, including at Popular Mechanics, USA Today magazines, SELF magazine and Black Warrior Review. I have an MFA in fiction, but I'll stick to the truth at Quoted.