Rosalita Allen was driving to pick up one of her granddaughters just before noon on Thanksgiving last year when she noticed flashing police lights and a blocked road straight ahead.
"I thought, 'Oh my dear god, somebody had a horrible accident,'" Allen said. "I had to turn left. From the time I turned left to the time I got to my granddaughter, I was praying for the accident victim, not knowing it was my daughter and that she was already dead."
Her daughter, Tammy Allen, 41, had been on her way to pick up her then-16-year-old son and go to Rosalita's for the holiday. Four blocks away, Tammy clipped another car as she tried to change lanes, sending her into oncoming traffic. She hit two vehicles, one of them head-on, according to the Associated Press.
Tammy died instantly at 11:38 a.m., Rosalita said.
Fatal Accidents More Likely on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving was the deadliest holiday in 2010, according to the most recent data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That year, 431 people died on the roads nationwide, compared with 259 on Christmas, 403 on Labor Day and 392 on Fourth of July.
"Whenever you increase the number of people traveling, and the number of cars, your likelihood and chance of having an accident are going to increase just by statistics," said Dr. Rahul Sharma, who heads NYU Langone Medical Center's Emergency Department and has worked his fair share of holidays in the ER.
An estimated 90 percent of Thanksgiving travelers will drive to their destinations this Thursday, according to the AAA auto club. That's 39.1 million people on the roads.
Sharma said car accident injuries can vary depending on what time the accident happens. During the day, when roads are gridlocked, collisions happen at lower speeds and result in more minor injuries, including bruises and neck injuries.
"If there were to be a silver lining, that would be it," said Jake Nelson, AAA's Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. "I'm not sure anyone would pray for congestion though."
Late at night, however, ER doctors start seeing more serious injuries as travelers are able to go faster on the emptying roads, Sharma said. The holiday alcohol and distracting family drama can also contribute to slower reaction times.
And as it gets later, more impaired drivers get behind the wheel, said Dr. Curt Dill, who also works in the NYU emergency room. He said that 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. are normally the worst hours, but by 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving, drivers might be traveling so fast that they look like they're "drag racing," causing cars to lose control and even flip over.
Dill said injuries depend on whether drivers are wearing their seat belts and how fast they're speeding.
"If you're wearing a seat belt and driving a modern vehicle with restraints on, then lots of collisions are survivable," he said. "But if you're not wearing your seat belt, you're crashing into a several -ton piece of metal."
That means, broken bones, internal bleeding, head injuries and even death.
Seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injuries in cars by 45 percent, according to AAA. In "light" trucks, they reduce that risk by 60 percent.
More Fatal Accidents in Rural Areas
Neither Tanya McCoy nor her 10-year-old son, Andrew, were wearing their seat belts as they left their Bonners Ferry, Idaho, home at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving 2010. Sean McCoy, Tanya's husband, described her as a "short, little redhead who was pretty fiery." She was also a triathlete.