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Why do traffic deaths spike during the summer months?

Side profile of a blue car

As a Minnesotan, you’d think most serious car accidents happen in the winter, when the roads are fraught with ice and snow and darkness descends at 5 pm. Winter driving often feels like a life-or-death endeavor. Nearly every driver who’s wintered here knows that harrowing feeling when you’re struggling to see the centerline and can barely make out the taillights ahead of you in subzero white-out conditions.

Surprisingly, however, more fatalities happen on our roads in the warmer months. From May through October, the fatal accident rate in Minnesota is 1.7 times higher than November through April, according to data from 2010 to 2015.

This trend is on par with nationwide data, too. July and August are consistently the deadliest months for driving. And July 3rd and 4th are the deadliest days of the year.

Why the increase?

The reason, it turns out, is simple: People drive more in the summer months. With kids out of school, it’s prime season for road trips – especially around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

Families and singles alike spend more time out and about, visiting friends and family, exploring the great outdoors, eating out – and, unfortunately, drinking out. Drunk driving occurs more frequently during the warmer months, with July, May and October seeing the highest rates of alcohol-impaired driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Teen drivers – the highest-risk population for traffic accidents – also spend more time behind the wheel during the summer. They’re commuting to summer jobs, driving to friends’ houses and meeting up at local hangouts. They also stay out later, which means they hit the road after dark, when accidents are most likely to happen.

Reversing the trend

Unfortunately, the danger of summer driving shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Awareness is the first step toward reducing fatalities. Parents of teen drivers should instill safe driving habits (and exercise adequate supervision). And people of all ages should be on the lookout for drunk drivers, especially around holidays and weekends.

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