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July 4 is many things to many people. To most U.S. adults, it's a day off. To the gregarious, it's a day to spend around the grill with friends and family. And to pyrophiles, it's a little slice of heaven on Earth.
July 4 also marks the start of car-theft season. And according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Independence Day remains the deadliest day of the year for American motorists.
IIHS data reveals that between 2007 and 2011, over 670 people were killed in automobile accidents on July 4. That works out to 134 deaths per day -- roughly 40 more than the U.S. is used to seeing on any given day.
In the past, teens have accounted for 10 percent of July 4 fatalities, but this year, the IIHS expects the number to drop to 6 percent. That encouraging development may be due to a shift in teens' attitudes toward distracted driving. According to the Allstate Foundation, 75 percent of teens now admit freely that reading and writing texts while driving is distracting -- a dramatic increase from the cavalier 49 percent recorded in 2009.
And when teens are riding in a car with a distracted driver, they're happy to make their concerns known: today, 87 percent of teenagers say that they'd be perfectly willing to speak up and tell a driver that he or she was driving in a dangerous way. In 2009, that figure was significantly lower, at 59 percent.
If you're a parent, now would be a great time to check in with your kids about their driving habits. Even if they're celebrating July 4 with you in the backyard, they'll still be out of school for a couple of months, with much more time for roaming the roads than usual.
And no matter what your age, start thinking about your own July 4 activities. Whether you stick close to home, assign a designated driver, or hire a taxi for the day or night, a little planning will help you wring the most enjoyment from the day without putting yourselves or others at risk.