Bottle rockets aren't the only things exploding this Fourth of July holiday weekend. According to AAA, the projected 44.2 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more from home will be the most in recorded history — more than 84 percent of whom will do so by car. And as we're obligated to report in these times of spiking highway fatalities, more travelers equals more cars on the road — and that equals more crash deaths.
The 37.5 million anticipated road-trip takers represent a nearly 3 percent increase over the previous year, mirroring the growth for Independence Day travel overall. As has been the case in recent years, a stronger economy and low gas prices are the major contributors to Americans' decision to hit the road for the holiday. The top mainland U.S. destinations this year are Orlando, Fla.; Seattle; Anaheim, Calif.; and Las Vegas.
With all those motorists on the road, mishaps are bound to abound. AAA said it expects to come to the aid of more than 338,000 car travelers over the holiday weekend. The main causes should sound familiar if you've ever read a road-trip forecast before: lockouts, flat tires and dead batteries.
"AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out," the travel services organization said in a statement. "Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown."
Beyond lockouts and dead batteries, which mostly just amount to being a bummer, a spike in cars on the road also translates to a spike in highway deaths. The National Safety Council hasn't yet released its annual forecast of Fourth of July fatalities, but in 2016, the nonprofit safety-advocacy group projected that 466 people would lose their lives and nearly 54,000 would be seriously injured on U.S. roadways over 2016's three-day holiday weekend.
With July 4 this year falling on a Tuesday, effectively extending the holiday, those figures could be even greater — and that was with more than 1 million fewer Americans set to hit the road. Moreover, for comparison, Memorial Day 2017 also was outpacing travel projections over the previous year by 2.4 percent, with NSC forecasting 409 deaths — 12 percent more than the average for the past six Memorial Day holiday weekends and the highest since 2012 — and 47,000 serious injuries.
One of the greatest contributors to July 4 fatalities is drunken driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 146 people were killed in crashes involving at least one drunk driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher during the Independence Day holiday counting period in 2015, while 92 incidents involved a driver with at least a 0.15 BAC.
"Americans love to celebrate the Fourth of July with family, friends, food and fireworks," NHTSA said in a statement. "But all too often the festivities turn tragic on the nation's roads. This iconic American holiday is also one of the deadliest holidays of the year due to drunk-driving crashes."
For this reason, NHTSA is promoting the "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over," a cooperative effort with police departments across the nation that steps up DUI enforcement during the holiday weekend, as well as the "Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving" campaign, which serves to remind motorists that sober driving is the only safe driving.
NHTSA offered the following tips to keep your holiday road-trip passengers safe:
- Before leaving, perform a basic safety check of your car's tire pressure, wiper blades, fluid levels, lights and air conditioning.
- Check for recalls using the VIN look-up tool to make sure your car is recall-free.
- Make sure you and all of your passengers wear a seat belt at all times during the drive, and that child passengers are in an appropriate car seat suited to their age, height and weight.
- Bear in mind that the roads will be crowded on a busy holiday weekend, so be prepared for anything.
NSC offers these suggestions:
- Designate a sober driver or prearrange alternate transportation if you're going to drink or use other intoxicating substances.
- Get plenty of sleep beforehand and take regular breaks during longer trips to avoid fatigue.
- Never use a cellphone or other device (even hands-free) while behind the wheel.
People aren't the only casualty during Fourth of July festivities. We sometimes forget that fireworks simply are legal (often not so much) explosive devices. These backyard ordnances cause dozens of injuries each year and tens of millions of dollars worth of property damage — including hundreds of vehicle fires, according to InsuranceQuotes.com. And if you're not careful, your insurance policy may not cover fireworks damage — meaning you could get burned. For example, if fireworks are illegal in your state, your insurance may not pay off if your car is damaged by fireworks, so familiarize yourself with your policy before lighting that fuse in your cul-de-sac fireworks display.
Also, park your car in the garage if you have one, and keep the garage door down. If you don't have a garage, park under whatever shelter you can find, be it a carport or a tree. If you plan on attending a public fireworks display, consider parking well out of range of fireworks fallout, and walking or catching a ride to the display site.