Homeowners Insurance

Turkey Fires, Road Fatalities and Party Liability: The Biggest Dangers to Look Out For on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the best times of year to reconnect with family members across the country, but there are risks involved, too.

Attending a big Thanksgiving get-together for family and friends is the highlight of the fall season, but homeowners should look out for certain risks, whether you're making a trip to Grandma's house or hosting your loved ones at home. From travel to cooking fires, here's what to look out for over Thanksgiving weekend and how to stay safe.

How risky is traveling somewhere else on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. And with that many people on the roads, it's unsurprising that traffic deaths increase during that time.

In 2015, there were 505 road deaths nationwide over the five-day period surrounding Thanksgiving, from Wednesday to Sunday. And the number of deaths over this holiday weekend appears to be growing over time. By 2017, the number of road deaths had increased to 597 nationwide.

Which days of Thanksgiving weekend are most dangerous to drive?

Not every day of Thanksgiving weekend is equally deadly. Thanksgiving itself is the most dangerous day for driving, as about 119 Americans on average die in car crashes. That's 18.9% more than a typical Thursday.

What may be surprising is that the following three days are actually less dangerous than a typical weekend. The Saturday after the holiday is particularly safe, with 7.8% fewer road deaths than a typical Saturday.

Line graph comparing the number of deaths over thanksgiving weekend with a typical weekend

However, this trend does seem to be changing over time. While Thanksgiving Saturday 2015 was 22.7% safer than a typical Saturday that year, in 2017, Saturday was 5% more dangerous than a normal Saturday.

Which states have the most dangerous roads on Thanksgiving?

Not every state has equally dangerous roads. We compared the number of road fatalities over Thanksgiving weekend per state, and we found that some states have up to six times as many deaths as others over the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Heat map showing which states have the most road deaths over Thanksgiving weekend

Mississippi has the most deaths during this time, with an average of 3.7 deaths per 1 million people over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend.

Alabama, Idaho, Maine and Kansas round out the top five, each of which had more than 3 deaths per 1 million people each year.

States with the most Thanksgiving road deaths, 2015–2017

RankStateAverage road deaths per 1,000,000 people% difference from national average
1Mississippi3.7+119%
2Alabama3.2+91%
3Idaho3.0+81%
4Maine3.0+78%
5Kansas3.0+77%

On the other hand, some states have very few traffic fatalities over Thanksgiving weekend. Massachusetts had an average of only 0.6 road deaths per 1 million people. New Hampshire had only 3 total — all in 2015. However, its smaller population size makes it more dangerous per capita than Minnesota and Massachusetts.

States with the fewest Thanksgiving road deaths, 2015–2017

RankStateAverage road deaths per 1,000,000 people% difference from national average
1Massachusetts0.6-63%
2Minnesota0.7-58%
3New Hampshire0.7-56%
4West Virginia0.7-56%
5New York0.8-52%

How risky is hosting a party on Thanksgiving?

Hosting a party on Thanksgiving isn't intrinsically more dangerous than hosting a party on any other day of the year, except for that it's among the largest gatherings many families hold, so you might run into some problems you've never experienced before: these might include frying a turkey or someone getting hurt at your party.

Frying a turkey

Frying a turkey in the backyard is a delicious, impressive way to prepare your Thanksgiving meal. But turkey fryer accidents are among the most destructive sources of home damage that occur over Thanksgiving weekend. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Thanksgiving is the worst day of the year for cooking fires, and turkey fryer accidents are among the most common causes of accidents.

So if you decide to deep-fry a turkey, take some steps to protect yourself beforehand.

  • Put your fryer on a level, stable surface away from your home or anything flammable.
  • Keep children and pets far away from the frying area.
  • Thoroughly defrost and dry the turkey before cooking.
  • Measure the amount of oil you need by submerging the turkey in water beforehand.
  • Turn off the fire when adding the turkey to the oil and when removing it.
  • Closely supervise the turkey the entire time it's frying.

Dealing with this much boiling oil is unpredictable, even if you've taken all the proper precautions. Fortunately, if the fryer starts a fire or causes a burn, then you'll be covered by homeowners and renters insurance. Fire damage is one of the main covered peril in nearly all homeowners insurance policies. And fire damage from cooking is typically included, though some policies have exemptions for negligence.

What if someone gets hurt at my party?

Anytime you have people over to your house, there's a chance something could go wrong. Maybe someone will trip on your stairs; or, they could get food poisoning.

If you have guests over for your Thanksgiving party, you'll be protected by your homeowners insurance liability coverage if there's an accident. Most homeowners insurance policies include a few thousand dollars of no-fault medical expense coverage, which covers medical bills when a guest is injured on your property, or if they get sick from food you've prepared.

If their bills exceed your medical payments coverage (and their own health insurance), your guest will likely need to make a full-scale liability claim, which may be more time-consuming and expensive.

In some states, you can also be held liable for the actions of your guests under social host liability law. For example, if one of your guests gets too drunk to drive, and crashes their car on the way home, you may be held liable, depending on state law. So it's crucial to monitor your guests' alcohol intake at your party.

Methodology

We calculated the frequency of Thanksgiving-related road deaths over the three most recent years available (between 2015 and 2017) on a state and national level using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). We then compared Thanksgiving weekend (Wednesday through Sunday) to the average Wednesday-to-Sunday period for each year.

To determine statewide per-capita averages, we used the U.S. Census Bureau's annual estimate of resident populations for 2017.

Matt Timmons

Matt is a Technical Writer at ValuePenguin who works on distilling the complex details of insurance into accessible advice. He previously created educational content at Grovo Learning and MarketSmiths Content Strategists. Matt's consumer-focused analysis of insurance has appeared in publications like CNBC, Yahoo Finance and the Miami Herald.

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