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Stay Cautious on Deadliest Driving Days

With more than 34,000 car crash fatalities in the U.S. annually, there’s no question that driving can be dangerous any day of the year. However, research shows that holidays are often the deadliest days to be behind the wheel.

Read on to find out which holidays you may want to steer clear of the roads:

Turkey Day = High-Risk Roads

It turns out that Thanksgiving Day is the most lethal driving holiday. As a matter of fact, 502 people died in car accidents on Thanksgiving Day in 2008-that’s a whopping 400 more car-related deaths than the typical day. The vast majority of these fatal car crashes occurred at night.

Believe it or not, that number is down from previous Thanksgivings. The DOT started tracking traffic fatalities in 1982, and the 26-year average of Thanksgiving Day deaths had been 556. Some experts say fatalities dropped partly because sky-high gas prices kept many drivers off the road.

It’s no wonder why Thanksgiving ranks as the most fatal driving day. According to the National Safety Administration, Thanksgiving weekend is the most traveled holiday period of the year, and nearly 90 percent of Turkey Day trekkers travel by car. Although the DOT has not yet released 2009 Thanksgiving stats, some experts predicted fatalities would be higher because lower gas prices would lead to more drivers on the road.

Eat, drink and be merry-but don’t drive

One reason holiday driving is so hazardous is because many drivers enjoy a few too many festive drinks before they hit the road on these special days. Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, nearly half of all traffic fatalities on New Year’s Day are alcohol-related-the highest number of any holiday.

Other hazardous holidays

Based on DOT research, the following are the top five most dangerous holidays for drivers heading out the highway:

#1: Thanksgiving Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 502
Average Number of Annual Fatalities Since 1982: 567

#2: Labor Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 487
Average Number of Annual Fatalities Since 1982: 544

#3: July 4th
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 491
Average Number of Annual Fatalities Since 1982: 542

#4:  Memorial Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 425
Average Number of Annual Fatalities Since 1982: 508

#5:  Christmas Day
Number of Fatalities in 2008: 420
Average Number of Annual Fatalities Since 1982: 414

Buckle up

If you’re planning to hit the road on one of these holidays (or any other day) be sure to buckle up. According to The National Safety Commission, more than two-thirds (or 67 percent) of car occupants who died on Thanksgiving 2008 were not wearing their seat belts.

Many states have more stringent seat belt laws these days for this very reason. In most states, law enforcement officers can pull you over and cite you simply for not wearing a seat belt-regardless of whether you’ve broken any other traffic laws. In recent years, the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sponsored a nationwide “Click-It-Or Ticket” campaign on Thanksgiving weekend. This is all the more reason to stay buckled up on holidays-and every other day.

Slow down

Another thing you can do to protect yourself on the road is to watch your speed. Speeding one of the most common causes for traffic crashes. That’s because when you speed, you have less time to react to an emergency on the road. Plus, high speed increases the crash force of a collision.

While you should remain particularly vigilant on these high-traffic holidays, it’s important to buckle up, watch your speed and keep your eyes on the road every time you hit the road. After all, holidays aren’t the only days when car crashes occur. So, drive safely-on holidays and every day.