Driving a longer commute to and from work doesn’t just mean spending more hours in the car and fewer hours at home – it can actually be bad for your physical and mental health. Neck and back pain, higher levels of stress, and bad sleep are just a few issues commuters have on top of gridlock, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and distracted drivers.
None is as alarming, though, as realizing longer commutes could be keeping you on the road during some of the deadliest hours for fatal car accidents. According to the National Safety Council, nearly 40,000 people died on the road in 2016, making it the most lethal year on record since 2007.
So what does this mean for you and your commute? To help drivers recognize the perils of driving during some of the busiest hours, we compiled Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, mapping every fatal car accident between 2012 and 2016. Our study aims to help drivers understand which times of day are the most dangerous, how the number of fatal crashes fluctuates throughout the workweek, and which cities and states should be the most concerned about these daily drives. Keep reading to see what we uncovered.
Of the 158,251 fatal car accidents that occurred in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016, nearly 1 in 4 occurred between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. When looking solely at fatal accidents during rush hour, 62 percent occurred during the evening commute.
More than just the number of people on the roads during rush hour, drivers headed to and from work during these peak traffic hours could be more distracted than off-hour commuters. One study conducted in a region where driving with a cellphone in hand was a ticketable offense issued one citation every minute during morning drive time. In 2015, distracted driving was responsible for more than 3,400 fatalities and 391,000 injuries.
Distracted driving can also include conversations with passengers in the car, a navigation system, or even just taking eyes off the road to adjust radio or streaming services. According to the CDC, nine people die every day as a result of crashes involving distracted drivers, and you can travel the length of a football field in the 5 seconds it takes to pull your eyes off the road and look at a text message or notification.
From March through September, fatal driving accidents were more likely to occur during the morning hours. From November through January, evening hours posed a higher risk. With the sun setting earlier as a result of daylight savings time, drivers aren’t only battling traditional rush-hour distractions and winter driving conditions – they may also be driving home in the dark, further compounding the dangers of their commute.
Critical Driving Hours
There are many reasons why people get so tired at the end of their workday, and they don’t always specifically relate to the job. Sleeping problems, stressful environments, and high-emotional output can leave people feeling completely taxed by the time the work bell signals quitting time. Whatever the reason, you might be driving home more tired than when you left home in the morning – and that could be dangerous.
Between 2012 and 2016, fatal car crashes were most frequent at roughly 6 p.m., when many Americans leave work and head home. Fatal car crashes became more common after morning drive time and didn’t decrease in frequency again until after 9 p.m. Some of the latest evening and earliest morning hours were among the safest to be on the road.
Driving even just a little bit drowsy isn’t uncommon, and as many as 1 in 3 Americans have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Operating a car while tired can be just as debilitating (and dangerous) as driving drunk, making it harder for people to pay attention to the road and lower their response time when reacting to other drivers and sudden changes in road conditions.
Deadly Driving Rates
Not every state experiences the same drive-time dangers, although some reported a higher percentage of fatal car accidents during commuting hours.
With nearly 30 percent of deadly crashes occurring during the busiest hours on the road, fatal accidents during commuting hours were more common in New Hampshire than any other state between 2012 and 2016. While traffic fatalities have been on the rise across the country, they’re rising at an even faster rate in New Hampshire. To help combat this critical trend, New Hampshire launched its Driving Towards Zero program, aimed at creating a safer driving culture to reduce distractions and educate residents on road dangers. The program’s goal is to reduce fatalities and serious injury accidents by 50 percent by 2030.
Traffic fatalities were also more common during commuting hours in South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, and Minnesota.
In contrast, deadly crashes during the same hours between 2012 and 2016 were the least common in states including Connecticut (less than 21 percent), Maryland, Texas, and Hawaii. Despite having the lowest four-year average, 2016 saw the highest number of deaths on Connecticut’s highways, a trend that continued to rise in 2017 across the state.
According to our study of FARS data, the highest percentage of fatal car crashes during commuting hours between 2012 and 2016 was in York, South Carolina.
With a population of roughly 258,000 in 2016, more than 1 in 3 fatal car accidents in York County occurred during commuting hours. Like a crash in 2016 involving a 35-year-old driver under the influence who killed a woman on I-77, or another driver not wearing a seat belt who was killed after crashing into a tree just north of Rock Hill, there are many reasons why York Country roads have been so dangerous in recent years.
Nearly 1 in 3 fatal accidents in other counties including Sonoma, California; Marion, Oregon; and Kane, Illinois, also occurred during commuting hours, making them among the most deadly counties during drive-time hours for commuters.
While evening commute hours were the most deadly nationwide, some counties experienced a higher volume of these lethal collisions in the morning. In Cameron County, Texas, more than 2 in 3 fatal accidents occurred between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Similarly, more than half of deadly crashes occurred during morning commutes in counties like Gregg, Texas; Citrus, Florida; and Dauphin, Pennsylvania. In Cameron County, fatal crashes in 2016 were more likely to take place on farm-to-market roads than interstates or highways, proving the most traversed roads aren’t always the most dangerous.
Discovering Dangerous Traffic
Want to know more about some of the deadliest counties for fatal drive-time accidents? Use our interactive above to explore cities and neighborhoods that accounted for the highest number of deadly crashes during busy driving times.
You’ll be able to see which percentage of these destructive pile-ups occurred during rush-hour commutes, and which roads and intersections might be the most dangerous. In York, South Carolina, for example, a majority of fatal accidents didn’t necessarily occur on I-75 or U.S. 21, two major interstates in the area, but on smaller roads in and around Rose Hill connecting these major highways.
Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. You or someone else could be driving home from work and not realize just how tired you are or the impact your fatigue could have on your response time. As we found, a vast majority of fatal accidents occurring during rush hour happened at the end of the day. These evenings home can be especially dangerous during the winter months when road conditions are more hazardous, and the sun sets earlier in the day.
If you or someone you love has been involved in a car accident, you’re not alone. Knowing what to do after an accident can be stressful and intimidating, which is why our experts help drivers break down the ins and outs of injury claims. From who’s liable after your crash to the role your insurance plays and the legal representation you might need to earn fair compensation, Injury Claim Coach has your back when you need it most. Visit us at InjuryClaimCoach.com to learn more and get started on your case today.
We pulled data on 158,251 fatal car accidents between 2012 and 2016 from the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and looked at crashes that occurred between the morning hours of 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and evening hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Fair Use Statement
Safe driving isn’t just about the efforts you make to avoid dangerous accidents; it’s about all of the people on the road with you. Share the results of our study with your readers for any noncommercial use to help spread the word, but ensure a link back to this page so they can see our findings in their entirety.