Are roads deadly during college football championships?

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Here's what you need to know...
  • During NCAA championships, there’s a 21.3 percent decrease in U.S. fatal crashes
  • In the past seven years, the most fatal crashes occurred on 2015’s semifinal game day
  • Between games there’s an 86 percent jump in fatal crashes in the winners’ home state
  • Since 2010, only three game days had zero fatal crashes in one of the team’s states
  • The losing team’s state has a 20 percent lower fatal crash rate than the winning team’s
  • More fatal crashes occur on championship days than any day during the playoff period

Back in the 1820s, the game of football was not quite the organized sport we know today. It was called “ballown” at Princeton and “Bloody Monday” at Harvard, but it was the beginning of America’s favorite game to watch.

This multi-billion-dollar business (profiting from free labor) also employees the highest paid public employee in 27 states a job: college football coach.

Even though the unpaid players are who the spectators are there to see, the coaches are the ones often making over $5.5 million in just one season. The now-famous players themselves might not be paid with salaries, but some are paid by scholarships . . . until they get injured that is.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 91 percent of the college football players’ brains studied had the “death sentence” known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) thanks to head trauma caused on the field.

With five deaths already this year, it’s no secret that college football injuries can kill America’s young, talented athletes. 

But, just how dangerous are U.S. public roads for the millions who drive to cheer on their team?

Methodology

  • This article is a result of an in-depth study of seven years of NHTSA fatal crash reports.
  • Our team of analysts compiled nearly 25,000 data points of deadly accidents that occurred on the roads in the home and away states for the entire NCAA football championship period.
  • To allow for the study of the complete trend for 2010-2016, this data includes the days just before and after each semifinal and championship, off days in between the games played, and a fatal crash annual average that includes the off season.
  • The first four facts below include the best and worst game days for fatal crashes in America for the winning and losing teams’ home states.
  • The remaining six facts are correlated from the 25,000 data points we collected.

10 Facts About Fatal Crashes During NCAA Football Championships

Our researchers at CarInsuranceComparison.com are the best in the business. We go far beyond the basics. This study is the first to bring to light the dangers on the roads surrounding college football championship games in our nation.

Until now, people only worried about the dangers on the field. College football games can also mean an increase in alcohol consumption, state-wide traffic, and fatal car crashes.

#1 – The Game Day with the MOST Fatal Crashes: Winning State

Game and Year: Championship Final 2010
National Champions: University of Alabama
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 5
Difference from Daily Average: +130.43 percent

Even though Texas came to the field on January 7, 2010 with the top rushing defense in the league, Alabama came away with its first BCS championship, first national title since 1992, and first ever win over Texas that day.

The Tide rolled in favor of Alabama on the field that day, but the crimson on Alabama roadways was bloodshed with a devastating 130.43 percent increase in fatal crashes.

The victory celebrations quickly turned to despair for all those who lost loved ones in car accidents that day.

2010 was off to a rough start for Alabama public roads the day UA became national champs.

#2 – The Game Day with the MOST Fatal Crashes: Losing State

Game and Year: Championship Final 2010 and 2012
National Champions: University of Texas (’10) and Louisiana State University (’12)
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 4
Difference from Daily Average: -46.83 percent (TX) and +124.20 percent (LA)

The National Championship Game of 2010 meant the most fatal crashes for the winning and losing team’s home state. Only for Texas it was actually an improvement compared to their typical fatal crash average.

On January 9, 2012, Louisiana experienced a 124.20 percent increase in fatal crashes, and despite the fact that LSU was ranked #1, Alabama’s Tide swallowed the Tigers whole with a first ever shutout in BCS title game history.

A day of devastating loss for Louisiana, on both the field and the road.

It makes for a vivid illustration that in the last seven years, the most fatal crashes for the losing team’s home state was a tie between two teams that both lost to the Crimson Tide.

#3 – The Game Day with the LEAST Fatal Crashes: Winning State

Game and Year: Championship Final 2012 and Semifinals 2016
National Champions: University of Alabama (’12 and ’16)
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 0
Difference from Daily Average: -100 percent

In the past seven years of NCAA football championship playoff periods, there were only two game days that the champion team’s home state had zero fatal crashes. On both occasions, it was Alabama who reigned victorious in the sport of football and safe driving.

Here they are:

  • Championship: Monday, January 9, 2012, the University of Alabama vs Louisiana State – UA’s defense allowed exactly ZERO points to be scored by LSU on the field, and ZERO lives were lost on Alabama’s roadways on this momentous day for the Tide.
  • Semifinal: Thursday, December 31, 2015, the University of Alabama vs Michigan State – Alabama managed to repeat history three years later when playing the Spartans with ZERO points scored against them on the field and ZERO lives lost on its roadways making another inspiring day of victory.

#4 – The Game Day with the LEAST Fatal Crashes: Losing State

Game and Year: Semifinals 2016
National Champions: Clemson University
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 0
Difference from Daily Average: -100 percent

Interestingly enough, in the past seven years of college football championship playoff periods, there was only one game day that the losing team’s home state had zero fatal crashes, and it was the very same day the winning team had zero.

What’s even more surprising is that it was New Year’s Eve, one of the most dangerous days to drive in America.

  • Semifinal: Thursday, December 31, 2015, Clemson University vs the University of Oklahoma – South Carolina won this game by 20 points and had ZERO fatal crashes on its roadways, but 11 days later the Tigers lost the championship game by five points to the Tide.

We’re seeing a recurring theme of the Tide defeating Tigers no matter where those Tigers originate.

#5 – The Roads During Championship Playoff Periods

Do more fatal crashes occur during college football championship periods? Surprisingly, no.

Over the past seven years, on semifinal and championship game days, there has actually been a 21.3 percent decrease in  fatal car crashes compared to the rest of the year.

Compared to the annual national average, here’s the overall breakdown since 2010:

  • Championship Period – 18.6 percent decrease (includes days before, after, and between games)
  • Actual Game Days – 21.3 percent decrease
  • Semifinals – 20.8 percent decrease
  • Championship Finals – 17.4 percent decrease
  • Winning Team’s Home State – 9.1 percent increase
  • Losing Team’s Home State – 24.5 percent decrease

The only increase was an average of 9.1 percent bump in fatal crashes in the championship team’s home state. Overall, in all other major categories, we are seeing decreases in fatal crashes during NCAA championship periods.

# 6 – The MOST Deadly Championship Period Day

It turns out, the deadliest day to drive out of the entire championship playoff period isn’t a game day. Over the past seven years, the days in between games has the most fatal crashes in the winning team’s home state. 

Our researchers discovered a huge increase of 85.9 percent in fatal car crashes that occur on these off days.

Interestingly enough, the second most deadly day (with a 41.6 percent increase) is the day before the national championship — also for the winning team’s home state.

Both of these days have fewer fatal crashes than the daily average in the losing team’s home state:

These percent differences show that the state closest to the national title has a higher rate of fatal car crashes during these college championship series.

# 7 – The LEAST Deadly Championship Period Day

The safest day on the roads during the college football championship series is (as the trend suggests) in the losing team’s home state.

The losing team’s home state experienced a drastic drop in fatal crashes the day after the semifinals — a 72.9 percent decrease from the daily average.

This data further proves the dangers of driving during the college playoff period are greater in the state on its way to win the NCAA football championship title.

Apparently the excitement and celebration result in poor driving decisions.

#8 – Fatal Crash Rates During Championship Series

Our in-depth study includes fatal crash rates during each of the championship playoff period days in both the winning and losing teams’ home states. These percent differences are in comparison to the involved states’ annual fatal crash average.

Winning State:

  • Day Before Semifinals –  up 11.5 percent
  • Semifinal Game – down 44.2 percent
  • Day After Semifinals – down 7.1 percent
  • In Between Game Daysup 85.9 percent
  • Day Before National Championshipup 41.6 percent
  • National Championship Game – down 7.2 percent
  • Day After National Championship – down 17 percent

Losing State:

  • Day Before Semifinalsup 18.4 percent
  • Semifinal Game – down 17.2 percent
  • Day After Semifinals – down 72.9 percent
  • In Between Game Days – down 18.6 percent
  • Day Before National Championship – down 27.1 percent
  • National Championship Game – down 27.1 percent
  • Day After National Championship – down 27.1 percent

The only day in the series both the winning and losing teams’ home states had an increase in fatal crashes was the day before semifinals.

The majority of the crash rate differences over the seven-year stretch are decreasing, and both states had a decline in fatal car crashes on the two game days.

The greatest drops in fatal crashes were on the semifinal game day for the winning team’s state and on the day after the semifinals for the losing team’s state.

#9 – Fatal Crash Trends During the Championship Series

This may come as a surprise, but overall the NCAA college football playoff period is not a more dangerous time to drive. The only days that have consistent increases in fatal crashes are the days before and after the semifinal and championship games.

A major reason we aren’t seeing an increase in fatal crashes on game days is that the past seven years these games have been played on Mondays and Thursdays.

Weekends are the most dangerous days to drive with an average of 143 traffic fatalities occurring each Saturday and Sunday according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Another reason this exciting series doesn’t experience more fatal car crashes is that it takes place during the winter months of December and January.

During the summer, nearly twice the number of car crash deaths occur than during the rest of the year combined, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

#10 – Safety During the Championship Game Series

Our researchers at CarInsuranceComparison.com have found that the college football championship period is far from the most dangerous sporting event for U.S. roads. In fact, driving during the World Series offers much more risk.

However, when you mix celebration (or defeat) with alcohol (or sugary caffeinated soda) with traffic and winter weather . . . you have a perfect recipe for treacherous conditions on the roads.

It only takes one wrong move for people to be killed. Just as three lives were lost five days before Christmas last year in a 68 car pileup thanks to an icy highway.

Football championship or not, always be safe on the roads. Value not only your own, but the life and safety of all those around you.

Complete Rankings: Fatal Crashes During the College Football Championship and Playoff

– To sort the table by category, click on header columns.

– Click here for the full stats and sources for each category. For all media inquiries, please email: Josh Barnes

YEAR STATE UNIVERSITY STATUS FATALITIES DIFFERENCE COMPARED TO USA FATAL CRASHES ON THE SAME DATE
2010 Alabama University of Alabama Winner 5 235.53
2010 Texas University of Texas Loser 4 168.42
2011 Alabama Auburn University Winner 1 -20.31
2011 Oregon University of Oregon Loser 1 -20.31
2012 Alabama University of Alabama Winner 0 -100.00
2012 Louisiana Louisiana State University Loser 4 191.43
2013 Alabama University of Alabama Winner 4 234.43
2013 Indiana University of Notre Dame Loser 1 -16.39
2014 Florida Florida State University Winner 4 292.31
2014 Alabama University of Alabama Loser 1 -1.92
2015 Ohio Ohio State University Winner 2 67.21
2015 Oregon University of Oregon Loser 1 -16.39
2016 Alabama University of Alabama Winner 3 146.77
2016 South Carolina University of Clemson Loser 1 -17.74

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