Are U.S. roads deadly during March Madness? (Case Study 2018)

Are U.S. roads deadlier in March Madness? In the last 7 years, traffic-related fatalities have been know to spike during March Madness. Some years saw increases as high as 79%.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 15, 2020

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Here's what you need to know...

March Madness has grown in more ways than one since the first basketball tournament in 1939 which only included eight teams.

This 68-team basketball bonanza has been known to crown a Cinderella or two, produce at least one shining moment a year, and turn millions of Americans into illegal gamblers. It’s that good. – WalletHub

The first Thursday of the tournament has been called a “national holiday for American sports fans when office productivity plummets.” Many men even schedule vasectomies for mid-March so they can recover while watching the games, hence the term “Vas Madness.”

In 2017, over 70 million March Madness brackets were completed and a whopping 10.4 billion dollars were gambled on these three weeks of basketball as estimated by the American Gaming Association.

We just hope your odds of getting home safely during March Madness are better than your odds of completing a perfect bracket (you’d be more likely to become president).

10 Facts: Fatal Car Crashes During March Madness

for our methodology.

Since fans will try to ruin a ref’s family business and have even gone as far as making death threats involving his wife and three kids just because of some “bad calls,” we knew our roads must be at serious risk.

That’s why our team of researchers did a little 25,000 data point study to find out just how much trouble U.S. roads were in during these games.

Our study found that we all have more serious things to worry about than our bracket status during this tournament.

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

Game and Year: Championship (2010)
Winning Team: Duke University
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 8
Difference from Daily Average: +139.74 percent

On Monday, April 5, 2010, Duke ended the Butler Bulldog’s 25-game winning streak at the March Madness championship game played at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indiana.

The day Duke earned their fourth national title, North Carolina had an alarming 139.74 percent increase in fatal car crashes making it the deadliest March Madness game day for a winning team’s home state in seven years.

Championship victory and celebrations meant for a deadly day to drive for North Carolina citizens.

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

Game and Year: Final Four (2016)
Losing Team: University of North Carolina
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 7
Difference from Daily Average: +90.06 percent

Not only was North Carolina the home state with the most fatal crashes for the national champions, but it was also the home state with the most fatal crashes for the championship losing team.

Looking back on the last seven years, the Final Four game day was the deadliest March Madness day for the losing team’s home state.

On April 2, 2016, North Carolina had the greatest number of fatal crashes for the losing team since before 2010, a drastic 90.06 percent jump from its typical daily average.

Ranking 8th in our 2017 publication of the States with the Worst Drivers, North Carolina has a lot of work to do to start keeping its residents safe on the road — all year.

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

Game and Year: Championship (2014)
Winning Team: University of Connecticut
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 0
Difference from Daily Average: -100 percent

Our researchers studied fatal crash trends and totals for each of the 67 games over the course of the previous seven March Madness tournaments.

Only 7 of those 469 games (1.4 percent) the winning team’s home state had zero fatal crashes.

Here are the seven March Madness game days when the winning team’s home state had the safest roads since 2010:

  • Third Round (2011) – Winning Team: UConn Huskies
  • Sweet Sixteen (2011) – Winning Team: UConn Huskies
  • First Four (2013) – Winning Team: Louisville Cardinals
  • First Four (2014) – Winning Team: UConn Huskies
  • Second Round (2014) – Winning Team: UConn Huskies
  • Sweet Sixteen (2014) – Winning Team: UConn Huskies
  • Championship (2014) – Winning Team: UConn Huskies

As you can see UConn dominates as having the home state with the least fatal crashes when they win the March Madness national title.

Connecticut had six full days of zero fatal car crashes when the Huskies were the national champions in 2011 and again in 2014.

The most notable of those six occurrences was Monday, April 7th, the day the 2014 championship game was played. That final day of the tournament, Connecticut managed to earn the national title AND maintain a 100 percent decrease in fatal crashes compared to its daily average.

PLUS that game day had the highest recorded decrease, 41.6 percent, in fatal crashes compared to the U.S. national average.

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

Game and Year: Championship (2015)
Losing Team: University of Wisconsin
Fatal Crashes in Home State: 0
Difference from Daily Average: -100 percent

Out of the 469 March Madness games in our seven-year study, only four (not even one percent!) had zero fatal crashes in a losing team’s home state.

Here are the four March Madness game days when the losing team’s home state had the safest roads since 2010:

  • Championship (2010) – Losing Team: Butler Bulldogs
  • Elite Eight (2012) – Losing Team: KU Jayhawks
  • Third Round (2012) – Losing Team: KU Jayhawks
  • Championship (2015) – Losing Team: Wisconsin Badgers

The best of these game days was the championship of 2015 because it had the greatest decrease in fatal crashes compared to the national average, a significant 16 percent drop.

The Blue Devil/Badger matchup was a good one with the first tie at halftime for a March Madness championship game since 1988. But, Duke beat Wisconsin that night by five points to take home their fifth national title.

The Badgers still ended the 2015 March Madness with a victory, just a different kind—no one killed on Wisconsin roadways the entire championship game day.

#5 – U.S. Roads During March Madness

Are America’s roads more deadly during March Madness? YES.

During the last seven occurrences of this beloved basketball tournament, there have been consistent fatal car crash increases across the board—some as high as 79 percent!

Game Days with Fatal Crash Increases: Winning Team’s State:

  • Second Round10.1 percent
  • Third Round16.2 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen10.1 percent
  • Final Four44.6 percent
  • Championship51.4 percent

Game Days with Fatal Crash Increases: Losing Team’s State:

  • Opening Round 4.1 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen14.4 percent
  • Final Four78.6 percent
  • Championship9.5 percent

With a 61.6 percent average fatal crash increase in the winning and losing team’s home states, the day when the Final Four head off proves to be the most deadly for local drivers.

Overall Fatal Crash Increases: March Madness Entire Series:

  • Winning Team’s State8.2 percent
  • Losing Team’s State3.2 percent

Even when looking at this complete basketball tournament beginning the day before the first game, including off days, and ending the day after the championship game, both the winning and losing teams’ home states have fatal car crash increases compared to their typical daily average.

States across the U.S. should follow California’s lead to help eliminate these unnecessary car crash deaths by offering free train rides for game days.

#6 – The MOST Deadly March Madness Game Day

The deadliest March Madness game day since before 2010 was when the Elite Eight played on Saturday, March 30th 2013.

March Madness 2013’s first day of Elite Eight games had the greatest increase in fatal crashes recorded out of all the previous seven tournaments — a 52.27 percent jump in deadly traffic accidents across America.

Below are the four teams that played on day one of the Elite Eight games, the deadliest game day for U.S. roadways:

#3 Marquette University vs. #4 Syracuse University

Time: 4:30 pm EST
Location: Washington D.C.
Winning Team: Syracuse Orange
Final Score: 55-39

#2 Ohio State vs. #9 Wichita State

Time: 7:05 pm EST
Location: Los Angeles, California
Winning Team: Shockers of Kansas
Final Score: 70-66

Although both lower-seeded teams won on day one of the Elite Eight games, neither team made it to the final. In 2013, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines 82 to 76.

Our study revealed a hidden fact about this game day that is both scary and eye-opening.

The day Syracuse won and advanced on to the final four, the school’s home state, New York, had a shocking 102.38 percent increase in fatal crashes compared to the U.S. average for that day.

Again we find a big sports victory on the very same day that more people died in car accidents.

#7 – The LEAST Deadly March Madness Game Day

Out of all the March Madness game days since before 2010, the one that proved to be the safest for U.S. roads was day two of the First Four games that took place on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Considering what we have discovered about the deadliest days to drive, it comes as no surprise to us that the game day with the least fatal car crashes happened on a week day.

Below are the four teams that played on day two of the First Four games, the least deadly game day for U.S. roadways:

#16 Texas Southern University vs. #16 Cal Poly State University

Time: 6:40 pm EST
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Winning Team: Cal Poly Mustangs
Final Score: 81-69

#11 University of Tennessee vs. #11 University of Iowa

Time: 9:10 pm EST
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Winning Team: Tennessee Volunteers
Final Score: 78-65

Neither Tennessee nor California placed in the top five for the 2014 March Madness, but on the day they won to advance to round two, there was the greatest decrease in fatal car crashes for any game day since before 2010, 46.45 percent.

#8 – Fatal Crash Rates During March Madness

The madness of this tournament affects a lot more than just one state.

It’s startling how much a sudden-death game on the courts can cause a catastrophic increase in the number of real-life deaths on the roads.

Below are the seven-year averages for the top states involved compared to their typical daily fatal crash average.

First Place Teams’ Home States:

  • Play-in Game –  down 40.1 percent
  • First Round – down 10.1 percent
  • First Four – down 55.3 percent
  • Second Round – up 10.1 percent
  • Third Round – up 16.2 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen – up 10.1 percent
  • Elite Eight – down 17.4 percent
  • Final Four – up 44.6 percent
  • Championship – up 51.4 percent
  • Entire Series – up 8.2 percent

Second Place Teams’ Home States:

  • Play-in Game – up 4.1 percent
  • First Round – down 47.9 percent
  • First Four – down 9.6 percent
  • Second Round – down 39.6 percent
  • Third Round – down 30 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen – up 14.4 percent
  • Elite Eight – down 0.4 percent
  • Final Four – up 78.6 percent
  • Championship – up 9.5 percent
  • Entire Series – up 3.2 percent

Third Place Teams’ Home States:

  • Play-in Game – down 100 percent
  • First Round – up 29.4 percent
  • First Four – down 10.8 percent
  • Second Round – down 35.7 percent
  • Third Round – down 2 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen – down 42 percent
  • Elite Eight – down 4.7 percent
  • Final Four – up 63 percent
  • Championship – down 30.5 percent
  • Entire Series – down 10.1 percent

Fourth Place Teams’ Home States:

  • Play-in Game – down 16.4 percent
  • First Round – up 150.9 percent
  • First Four – down 30.7 percent
  • Second Round – down 52.5 percent
  • Third Round – up 33.1 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen – down 34.5 percent
  • Elite Eight – down 24.6 percent
  • Final Four – up 3 percent
  • Championship – down 41.5 percent
  • Entire Series – down 18.4 percent

Final Four and Championship Hosting States:

  • Play-in Game – up 4.1 percent
  • First Round – down 47.9 percent
  • First Four – down 30.5 percent
  • Second Round – down 30.8 percent
  • Third Round – up 40.5 percent
  • Sweet Sixteen – up 16.1 percent
  • Elite Eight – up 35.1 percent
  • Final Four – up 30.4 percent
  • Championship – down 22.6 percent
  • Entire Series – up 4.4 percent

#9 – Fatal Crash Rates During March Madness

As you can see in the percent differences listed above, as a state advances on the bracket the number of traffic deaths also advances.

The championship team’s home state and the state hosting the final games are the two states to take the biggest hit in lives lost on the road during March Madness.

Overall, the Final Four games prove to be the most deadly for the top teams’ states and hosting states. All five states, those ranked 1st-4th and the state hosting the final games, had increases in fatal crashes when the Final Four played.

The dangers March Madness inflicts on the involved states’ roads are undeniable. On average over the past seven of these tournaments, the two teams playing in the championship game had a combined 60.9 percent increase in fatal car crashes in their home states while the 3rd and 4th place states no longer in the running for the title had a combined 72 percent decrease!

#10 – Safety on the Roads During March Madness

With surgeries planned to ensure not a minute is missed and billions spent on bets, it’s no secret that the Big Dance creates some madness in our country. This tournament is quickly becoming one of the most popular sporting events in America.

In 2017, March Madness had 34 percent more viewers than in 2016, with 20.6 million people watching just one Final Four game, and March Madness Live reached all-time highs with 93.5 million live video streams of the games.

Our studies are clearly illustrating that the most popular sporting events are bringing with them increased dangers for U.S. roads. Looking at the crash death stats, staying safe during March Madness will take some effort. 

With the First Four games of 2018 tipping off Tuesday, March 13th, you’re just in time to learn how you can keep you and your loved ones safe during the 67 single-elimination games each carrying their own whirlwind of victory, defeat, celebration, and sorrow.

Navigate through the resources below from the National Safety Council, driving education courses, law offices, and top insurance providers to find tips for staying safe in the various situations you might find yourself in during the famed tournament this year.

Just as winning a basketball game can cause people to be killed in traffic accidents, safe driving habits can save lives. Do your part to help March Madness be the fun, athletic competition it’s meant to be not three weeks of injuries and death.

Our Play-by-Play

  • 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 1st-4th place teams’ home states and in the state hosting the final four and championship games.
  • To allow for the study of the complete trend for 2010-2016, our intricate data includes the days just before and after the March Madness tournament, days off in between games, and all game days.
  • The specific deadliest and least deadly game days were determined by comparing the fatal crash data for that exact day to the U.S. fatal crash annual average and that state’s fatal crash annual average.
  • When looking at March Madness over the course of the past seven years, results were determined by averaging the fatal crash totals and comparing those to the U.S. and state annual crash averages for those years.

Complete Rankings: Fatal Crashes During March Madness

– 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

Play-in Game201085.2353.00-0.38
First Round201085.2387.000.02
First Four Games2011-201685.2367.75-0.21
Second Round2010-201685.2382.36-0.03
Third Round2011-201685.2392.420.08
Sweet Sixteen2010-201685.2373.79-0.13
Elite 82010-201685.2392.640.09
Final Four2010-201685.23104.710.23
Championship Game2010-201685.2374.57-0.13
Entire Series2010-201685.2378.08-0.08