After a brutal winter for most of the country, motorists are planning to hit the road in droves this Memorial Day weekend. AAA is reporting that around 31.8 million Americans will drive 50 miles or more this weekend, up from last year's 31.4 million and a post-recession high. A total of 36.1 million Americans will be traveling this weekend, including air and train travelers, up from last year's 35.5 million.
Not only will the roads be crowded, but according to the National Safety Council, they'll also be more dangerous than on the average weekend; the agency estimates that 382 traffic fatalities and another 40,900 medically consulted injuries may occur during the holiday weekend that spans Friday through Monday. Those numbers are down slightly from last year's prediction of 407 fatalities nationwide.
"The winter blues appear to have given Americans the travel bug and a case of cruise cabin fever as travel for the holiday is expected to hit a new post-recession high," Marshall L. Doney, AAA chief operating officer said in a statement.
It's not just the thought of better weather that's inspiring motorists; Doney cites the continually improving economy as another reason travelers are planning a trip to kick off the summer driving season this weekend. "As the economy continues to improve at a slow and steady pace, consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up which is welcomed news for the travel industry," he said.
Sinking prices at the gas pump should also help. AAA forecasts that Memorial Day weekend gas prices should be the same or slightly less as last year's national average of $3.63 for a gallon of regular fuel.
The happy-go-lucky travelers will have some serious company, as they do each year. Police agencies are again partnering with the Department of Transportation and its Click-it-or-Ticket seat belt enforcement campaign. Law enforcement is ramping up surveillance and seat belt violation tickets during the holiday weekend. The DOT is especially targeting men, ages 18 to 34; research shows they're less likely to wear seat belts. In general, the agency says one in five Americans fail to regularly wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
According to NSC studies, safety belts are 45 percent effective in preventing fatalities. The group estimates that 139 lives could be saved this Memorial Day weekend if motorists wear their seat belts.
"Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer celebrations, but sadly, we know this long holiday weekend will end with too many preventable deaths and injuries. We issue these estimates to draw attention to risks on the roadways and encourage drivers to take extra precautions so needless tragedies can be prevented," Deborah Hersman, NSC president and CEO said in a statement.
AAA graphic; click to enlarge