Gas prices are creeping up, but that won’t stop a record number of motorists from hitting the road next weekend to celebrate the unofficial start of summer. AAA is projecting that 37.6 million drivers will be traveling during Memorial Day weekend, for which the counting period runs May 23, through May 27. That’s 3.5 percent more motorists than last year, AAA reports — and the most on record.
A strong economy and low unemployment numbers are two reasons AAA cites for the increase in travelers this year despite the rising costs of car travel. Gas prices have increased by around 30 cents a gallon in the last two months, with the national average close to $3 gallon.
It won’t just be the roads that will be crowded either, according to AAA. The number of travelers in the sky is projected to be about 3.25 million, which is 4.8 percent more than 2018 and marks the sixth consecutive year of increases. Travel by bus, rail and cruise ship is also expected to increase by 3.8 percent to 1.9 million travelers.
When’s the worst time to hit the road? AAA partnered with transportation analytics firm Inrix to predict that drivers will experience the biggest traffic jams during the late afternoon and evening rush hours on May 23 and May 24.
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Memorial Day weekend also marks the start of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Click It or Ticket campaign, which strives to enforce seat belt use. From May 20 through June 2, NHTSA says, around 10,000 law enforcement agencies across the country will be policing the roads and enforcing seat belt laws.
According to the agency, 10,076 people who were killed in passenger vehicle crashes in 2017 weren’t belted in. Fifty-five percent of those fatalities happened between 6 p.m. and 5:59 a.m.
Stay Sober, Alert
The National Safety Council warns of another danger this holiday weekend. Holidays are often cause for celebration — and alcohol is often the cause of fatal crashes. Using past data, the NSC predicts that 380 people may die on U.S. roads this Memorial Day holiday period, and alcohol has been shown to be a major contributing factor in the past. During the 2016 Memorial Day period, 36 percent of fatalities involved an alcohol-impaired driver, NSC data shows.
NHTSA offers the following tips to help ensure you arrive safely:
- Check for safety recalls on your vehicle before you go.
- Make sure your car is ready to travel. Regular maintenance such as tuneups, oil changes, battery checks and tire rotations go a long way toward preventing breakdowns.
- Carry an emergency kit, which should include items such as jumper cables, a flashlight and extra batteries, reflective triangles, a first-aid kit, water and nonperishable food items. Make sure you also have your roadside assistance provider’s phone number along with any other emergency contacts.
- Maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead of you. This is a critical defensive-driving practice and could be the difference between avoiding an accident or being part of it.
- Keep your eyes off your phone and on the road at all times.
- Make sure everyone is in the safest seat, including car seats. All children younger than 13 should ride in the back seat, and children under 4 feet, 9 inches should be in a car seat or booster.
- Take breaks. Pull over every few hours to stretch your legs and rest. If you feel sleepy, take a longer break until you’re alert again.
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