Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Fast Times during Spring Breaks: Are Traffic Fatalities Another Consequence?

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Fast Times during Spring Breaks: Are Traffic Fatalities Another Consequence?

Article excerpt


Between the end of February and the beginning of April, college students from all over the United States travel to warmer climates to enjoy a week off from classes. This "spring break" phenomenon dates back to the late 1930s when Florida, especially the city of Fort Lauderdale, became a travel hotspot among college students (Bohn 2009). Since then, spring break (SB) has progressively turned into a college tradition, particularly for students in northern schools who take advantage of the appealing climate in

Florida. Currently, SB travel encompasses virtually all college students to become a huge component of American college culture. It is estimated that every year millions of students travel for SB, spending billions of dollars on transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment (Ribeiro 2011; Scott-Halsell and Saiprasert 2011).

Since the 1930s, besides Florida, cities in California, Nevada, Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean have become magnets for spring breakers (Bohn 2009). Popular destinations receive significant economic benefits from increased tourism revenue and employment due to this travel phenomenon. However, these destinations also experience adverse impacts, such as increased traffic crashes, public intoxication including driving under the influence (DUI), overcrowding, vandalism, littering, hospitalizations, and noise pollution (Laurie 2008). As a result, local communities and public officials struggle to weigh the stimulus to the local economy against the unwanted harms and risky behaviors associated with the SB environment.

One of the potentially dangerous and avoidable consequences of SB is fatal and non-fatal traffic crashes, especially those caused by drunk driving. However, this adverse outcome has received almost no attention in the literature. To address this gap, we examine the impact of SB season on fatal passenger vehicle crashes. Specifically, we investigate whether traffic fatalities significantly increase during the weeks when college students arrive at SB hotspots in the United States. We use daily county-level longitudinal data on passenger vehicle fatalities from the 1982-2011 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In addition to the aggregate analysis, we conduct separate analyses by age groups and by alcohol involvement in the crash. Using the extensive crash characteristics available in FARS, we also examine disaggregated fatality rates corresponding to in-state versus out-of-state driver involvement. Our findings indicate that passenger vehicle fatalities are significantly overrepresented during the SB season.


College students, being mostly younger adults, are not only relatively inexperienced drivers, but are also challenged by driving in an unfamiliar environment if they travel far from home for their SB vacation. Moreover, drinking and driving is quite prevalent among this population. American College Flealth Association's (2013) National College Flealth Assessment reveals that, when students were asked about the past 30 days, 23.9% of them reported driving after having any alcohol and 2.8% reported driving after consuming five or more drinks. As more colleges and universities establish campus policies to ban alcohol or restrict access, this can fuel the demand for heavy episodic drinking during SB. Some studies even report students selecting their vacation destinations in hopes of maximizing their ability to drink, such as underage American students vacationing in Mexico where the minimum legal drinking age is lower (Apostolopoulos, Sonmez, and Yu 2002).

Murphy et al. (2012, 339) report that, compared to adult drinkers, "college students tend to drink episodically, in relatively large social groups, outside of the context of meals, and often in large quantities over short periods." SB season may exacerbate these behaviors due to heightened impulsivity and greater peer pressure during such holidays. …

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