2017 includes two rounds of Friday the 13th: one in January and a second in October. While there’s no proven rise in ladders falling on people who walk under them or cranky black cats scratching up people’s faces, a study published in the British Medical Journal indicates the date does carry a higher risk of misfortune.
In 1993, researchers analysed people’s movement patterns in the south west Thames region of England on Friday the 13th and the preceding, far-less-ominous Friday the 6th.
The researchers pored over the number of vehicles on the roads, the number of people who dared venture to the supermarket, and the number of people admitted to hospitals.
The number of supermarket shoppers wasn’t markedly different on either day (when you need milk, you need milk). But there were “consistently and significantly fewer vehicles” on the M25 motorway on Friday the 13th — and spookily, despite there being fewer cars on the roads, hospital admissions due to transport accidents rose “significantly”.
“Friday the 13th is unlucky for some,” wrote the study’s authors. “The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent.
“Staying at home is recommended,” they concluded.
Research carried out in 2002 came to a similar and equally hair-raising finding, determining that Finnish women (but not Finnish men) were way more likely to die in traffic accidents on Friday the 13th.
“Friday the 13th may be a dangerous day for women, largely because of anxiety from superstition,” wrote the researchers — meaning that it’s not the date itself that’s inherently unlucky, but possibly that expectations of unluckiness create a self-fulfilling and sometimes fatal prophecy.
But it’s not all doom and gloom
According to the Australian Road Deaths Database, in 2016 there were five fatalities on Australian roads on Friday, May 13, compared to just one the preceding Friday and three the following Friday.
Which seems grim, but Friday the 13th struck three times in 2015: in February there were three fatalities on the 13th, two on the 6th and five on the 20th; in March there were five on the 13th, none on the 6th and seven on the 20th; and in November there were three on the 13th, six on the 6th, and five on the 20th.
So it’s pretty hard to argue Friday the 13th is particularly unlucky. (The data for 2014 and 2013 reveals a similar trend — or rather, lack of any trend.)
And wider studies have determined that there really isn’t any higher risk of misfortune, injury or death on Friday the 13th.
A 2002 study that looked emergency department admission rates in US hospitals found that “average ED visits for Friday the 13th were not increased compared with the Friday before and after and the month before”.
Of the 13 categories of admissions, 12 of them had no notable rise on Friday the 13th — the lone exception was “penetrating trauma” (eek!), which maybe indicates those Friday the 13th slasher movies aren’t as fictional as you’d hope.
“Friday the 13th should not be any different than any other day,” argued those researchers.
And deeper analysis of traffic fatalities on Finland’s roads in 2004 determined that, actually, Finnish female motorists aren’t any more likely to die on Friday the 13th than any other day — a finding reinforced in 2008 by Dutch insurance statisticians, who revealed there fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft on the supposedly unlucky day.
But if you’re still nervous about what series of unfortunate events might befall you on Friday the 13th, what should you do? Well, the authors of that 2004 researcher have some advice for the superstitious.
“People who are anxious of Black Friday may stay home,” they wrote. “Or at least avoid driving a car.”