NHTSA.gov

The Fourth of July is innocently associated with America’s unwavering pride, the joy of family barbecues, and the bursting excitement of elaborate fireworks displays. But in contemporary times, this naive image hardly scratches the surface of the many stresses that accompany our most patriotic holiday. In the summer of 2014, the American Automobile Association (AAA) reported that nearly 41 million people took to the roads and sky on the July 4th weekend, and with our economy on the continued upswing in 2015, those numbers are expected only to rise (USAToday). Add to the mix the fact that Independence Day falls on a Saturday this year, and American roads are set to be as congested as ever come five o’clock on Friday, July 3rd.

Even the most careful and discerning of drivers is prone to a multitude of distractions on this bustling weekend, and less than stellar motorists, as always, will be out in full force. Historically, the Fourth of July boasts among the top holidays for reported DUIs, motor vehicle citations, and fatal road accidents, all undoubtedly related to the spirited partying and drinking that accompanies the patriotic celebration (RecoveryRanch). Regardless of where your driving skills fall on the scales of basic common sense and safety, everyone should kick their defensive driving abilities into full gear this Fourth of July. Before you pack your swimsuit and load up the groceries for the most anticipated summer holiday, remember to consider some important points for navigating America’s roadways.

The Great Migration and Mass Exodus

It’s not enough that American families tend to congregate in droves on Independence day. AAA motor club projects that most people will travel fifty miles or more to reach their celebration destinations, making for unavoidable highway gridlock (Travel+Leisure). With the fourth falling cleanly on a Saturday this year, most workplaces will not stretch the holiday to accommodate a long weekend. This means there will be little to no confusion as to when people will travel, making for one headache of a migration on Friday afternoon and early evening. The same theory applies to the trek home on Sunday. If you are traveling to and from a beach town or holiday hotspot, be especially mindful of delays on major highways. As a defensive motorist, use smart judgment; if you can manage to depart later in the nighttime hours on July 3rd, or perhaps very early on the morning of Sunday the 5th, then do so to avoid the congestion.

If you can’t escape the crowds, then prepare yourself mentally, preserving your alertness despite the long work week, anticipation, and holiday excitement. Most importantly, steer clear of giving into the inevitable rage and frustration that comes with modern driving. Throughout time, smart motorists have always had to defend themselves against inexperienced – and just plain dumb – drivers. Forgotten turn signals and lane drifters abound, but with progress comes a number of other distractions sure to appear this holiday weekend. People will be texting, calling, and tweeting and in sheer numbers, all behind the wheel. So, be patient and vigilant on your Fourth of July quests. If you encounter an erratic motorist, keep your distance, report him or her if necessary, and – whatever you do – put down the cell phone yourself.

NHTSA.gov

Citations

Statistics concerning tickets and violations over the Fourth of July holiday are sketchy at best, but there is no question that law enforcement enthusiastically implements the traffic law. A variety of data compiled on individual state trends confirms that citations for speeding and reckless driving top the list, followed by seat belt and child safety seat violations (AndrewFlusche). Recent data does not account for the newfound surge in tickets administered for cell phone distraction, a certain concern for 2015. The most compelling of data demonstrates the high percentage of fatalities linked to impaired drivers, an average of 42% (RecoveryRanch). The fact is, nobody expects a tragedy to occur amidst the excitement and camaraderie of any major holiday, including Independence Day. This carefree attitude breeds distraction. Police are not merely patrolling to generate tickets; over the weekend, they will be called to major and minor roadways attending to accidents, disturbances, and more. Letting your guard down during the festivities may easily result in your receiving a needless citation.

DUIs

The message is beaten to death: don’t drink and drive. But for the 4th of July vacation, certain traditions make way for unsuspecting trouble and tragedy linked to alcohol. Statistics note that, when falling midweek, holiday parties tend to me milder and reports of DUI decline. When responsible adults need to report to work the next day, inhibitions stay in check (RecoveryRanch). This year, though, Saturday night’s alright for fighting. It goes without saying you should be watchful when navigating the roads at night. In areas with abundant nightlife and an eagerly inebriated younger crowd, police presence can only mitigate so much of the drinking and driving problem. However, motorists should also be defensive during the day, as afternoon barbecues often feature flowing cocktails that seriously impact unsuspecting drivers. During the day, people aren’t necessarily stumbling out of crowded bars and making destructive driving decisions, but they do underestimate their alcohol consumption.

This summer holiday season, protect and prepare yourself for inevitable driving distractions. Remember that traffic schools or defensive driving courses are available to you if you’ve received a moving traffic violation or want to earn a discount on your car insurance. If you’ve received a traffic ticket, your state’s county traffic court may allow you to complete traffic school in lieu of having points added to your record. If you decide to enroll in traffic school voluntarily, your car insurance provider may also award you with a safe driver discount.