Distracted driving

Road Risk Alert: Increase in Distracted Driving Raises Safety Concerns for Thanksgiving

November 14, 2023

Thanksgiving is a holiday when American families come together and celebrate with food, football, and pie. But it has a less savory effect on our roads.

According to a new CMT analysis, distracted driving skyrockets on Thanksgiving Day. On an average day two weeks before and after Thanksgiving, drivers spend an average of 2 minutes and 2 seconds on their phones while driving. On Thanksgiving Day, this time increases to 2 minutes and 13 seconds, a 9.2% increase.

The time drivers spend on their phones on Thanksgiving has increased consistently since 2020. In 2020, drivers spent 2 minutes and 4 seconds per driving hour on their phones. In 2021, distraction increased to 2 minutes and 18 seconds. 2022 continued this trend with drivers spending 2 minutes and 24 seconds on their phones per driving hour, a 20-second increase since 2020.

The rise in distraction isn’t limited to Thanksgiving Day. Over the past three years, distracted driving around Thanksgiving has increased. In 2020, drivers spent 1 minute and 51 seconds per driving hour on their phones, and increased to 2 minutes and 7 seconds in 2021. In 2022, it rose to 2 minutes and 8 seconds of phone usage while driving.

For this analysis, CMT compared the two-week periods before and after Thanksgiving. It covers over 5.6 million trips. CMT defines screen interaction when a driver is tapping on the screen while the vehicle is traveling over 9 mph.

The 9.2% surge in screen interaction carries severe and fatal consequences. CMT’s research reveals that for every 10% rise in distracted driving, the crash rate increases by 1.4%. We estimate the increase in distracted driving on Thanksgiving has resulted in approximately 1,800 additional crashes, five fatalities, and economic damages totaling $45 million over the past three years.

Not only does distracted driving increase the crash rate, but it also increases the severity of crashes. Based on CMT’s data, phone screen interaction causes a 21.2% increase in crash severity. Increases in severity lead to more road injuries and fatalities.

Drivers also spend more time speeding on Thanksgiving Day. On an average day around Thanksgiving, drivers spend 2 minutes and 18 seconds per hour speeding. On Thanksgiving Day, speeding jumps over 43%, with drivers spending 3 minutes and 17 seconds of speeding per driving hour. This is a 59-second surge.

An IIHS analysis shows that a 5 mph increase in the maximum state speed limit was connected to an 8% increase in fatality rates on interstates and freeways. The 5 mph increase contributed to a 3 percent increase on other roads. A later study showed that when Seattle dropped speed limits from 30 mph to 25 mph, fatalities and serious injuries dropped up to 20%.

CMT’s analysis shows that speeding on the days around and on Thanksgiving Day has increased every year since 2020. In the days around Thanksgiving, drivers spent 1 minute and 59 seconds speeding per driving hour in 2020. In 2021, this number increased to 2 minutes and 12 seconds. However, there is some good news here — there was a decline in speeding in 2022, with drivers speeding 2 minutes and 9 seconds per hour of driving.

Unfortunately, speeding has increased even more on Thanksgiving Day. In 2020, drivers spent 3 minutes and 13 seconds speeding. This increased to 3 minutes and 48 seconds in 2021, a 35-second increase. Like the days surrounding Thanksgiving in 2022, speeding dropped to 3 minutes and 39 seconds on Thanksgiving 2022.

Thanksgiving is the busiest travel holiday of the year. Travel peaks the Wednesday before until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. 2023 will be no different. AAA projects 55.4 million Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday period this year, a 2.3% increase over last year and the third busiest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001.

What are travelers to do? Are there times of day that are better than others to avoid distracted drivers? CMT’s analysis of hourly distraction patterns shows that distracted driving on Thanksgiving 2022 peaked at 9:00 a.m. and remained at 2 minutes and 30 seconds until 2:00 p.m. where it falls slightly to 2 minutes and 24 seconds. In general, distraction on late November days increases at 6:00 p.m. and overtakes Thanksgiving distraction at 7:00 p.m. In short, besides the window between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., when many people are eating, distracted driving is relentless throughout the day.

A safer Thanksgiving on the roads

As Thanksgiving approaches, the rising trend of distracted driving requires everyone on the road to pay attention, take action, and stay vigilant.

Doug Shupe, AAA Spokesperson compares driving distracted to driving intoxicated and recommends that drivers put down their phones and focus on the driving. “Distracted driving can turn a joyful holiday into a tragedy,” said Shupe. “The consequences of distracted driving could be the same as driving while impaired — crashes that end in deaths and injuries.”

If you notice a driver using their phone, speak up to encourage safer driving for you and everyone in the car. As Shupe says: “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” Together, we can ensure a safe holiday season for everyone.