July may be known for patriotic parties, long days at the beach and general summer fun — but it's also a dangerous month to be out on the roads.
More people die in drunk driving crashes in July than any other month, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that the Fourth of July is the most hazardous day to be out on the roads — and alcohol plays a large part in that.
"July Fourth is a holiday where people are off work, out of school, and they may be celebrating with alcohol," said Russ Rader, the senior vice president of communications at IIHS. "And alcohol use sharply increases the risk of crashes."
The increased amount of accidents can be a hazard for drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Several experts, including Rader, spoke to TODAY about what people should know to stay safe and enjoy the holiday.
Tips for staying safe if you have to drive
"We want to make especially sure that people are careful this coming weekend, because we've got four days where people are going to be celebrating," said Helen Witty, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "Make a plan. Designate a non-drinking driver, take public transportation, even just sleep where you are! Call Uber or Lyft if you're in an area where they operate. There are so many options now, more than in the previous years, so it's actually hard to believe and understand that drunk driving deaths are rising."
Rader also warned that pedestrians should be careful if they're walking in an area that has a lot of cars on the road.
"Alcohol can be a factor in pedestrian deaths, so if you're planning to go out and celebrate, plan ahead how you're going to get home if you're consuming alcohol," he said. "Choosing to travel by Uber or Lyft can be safer alternative than trying to walk home."
Rader previously spoke to TODAY about some of the best steps people can take to avoid driving risks on the Fourth. He advised that people follow basic safety practices, like obeying the speed limit and buckling up while driving, and take preventative measures such as having your car checked to make sure everything is working correctly. He added that motorcycle crashes also spike on July Fourth, and cautioned riders to wear helmets.
"If nobody broke the law, we wouldn't have as many crashes," he said. "Not only are a lot of deaths on July Fourth due to alcohol consumption, but a big factor in deaths throughout the year is people not taking the simple step of buckling their seat belts."
Another suggestion is to adjust the timing of your trip, if your travel is flexible. If you can leave a few days before or after the Fourth of July, you're likely to be safer. According to AAA, drivers throughout the holiday weekend can face delays up to four times longer than their normal commute, and there will be a record-breaking 41.4 million cars on the road in the coming days.
How to talk to teens about safety
Even on a normal day, car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers; newly licensed teens are almost three times more likely to be in a car accident. They may be at an even higher risk on the Fourth.
Doug Herbert, founder of the safe driving program, BRAKES, said that it's important for parents to talk with their children about the risks of drunk driving. He lost his own sons to a car accident (neither was drunk, but they were speeding), and since then has been trying to raise awareness among young drivers and their parents.
"Parents are the most important part of a teenager's early driving career," he said, adding that he requires parents to come to his own classes and workshops on drunk driving. "We're trying to make parents be aware about the different things that are going on with the teenagers, and we're also trying to make sure that the parents are being good role models for their teenagers. Are they driving distracted, are they drinking and driving in the car, things like that? You can't expect teenagers to do a good job if the parents aren't doing a good job."
To make sure that kids always have a backup plan when drinking is involved, Herbert said that parents and their children should work together to come up with a code word — something simple that kids can discreetly text or say to their parents that will let the parents know that they need to be picked up, allowing kids to get out of a risky situation without causing a scene in front of their peers.
"It's never too (early) to talk to your children," said Witty, whose own daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2000. "Seventy-five percent of teenagers make their decisions on alcohol based on their parents. If you, as a parent, mentor what you want your children to do, if they are young and get the idea that you don't want them to drive after drinking, they won't drive after drinking. They won't get in a car with someone who's been drinking."
Herbert also said that teenagers shouldn't be afraid to speak up if they think they or their friends might be in danger.
"What I tell teenagers is, 'Look, my son Jon was driving fast. He was being silly. He was being dumb. That's the bottom line. But my son James, he wasn't doing anything wrong. He was driving with his brother, he trusted his brother, and at the end of the day, he's just as dead,'" Herbert said. "And that was because he was probably scared. He was sitting there going, 'Woah, what is he doing?' Don't be the person that sits there and doesn't say anything when you see something's wrong."