cars in traffic

Holiday traffic is expected to be down 64% for the Memorial Day weekend, although gas prices will be at 17-year lows.

The long Memorial Day holiday is typically one of the biggest travel weekends in the U.S. each year; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic traffic is expected to be down 64%.

Of the millions that do plan to head out, a new study shows that 75% will travel to their final destination by car, truck, minivan or sport-utility vehicle. Their trips are likely to be shorter to account for local safety guidelines, according to a new survey by

“Americans love the freedom and safety that personal car ownership provides, especially in the current environment,” said Jenni Newman, editor-in-chief.

(High-speed crashes rise as drivers go faster due to lighter traffic resulting from pandemic.)

Gas prices are at $1.87 per gallon, the first time they’ve been below $2 per gallon since 2003.

The majority of traveling consumers, approximately 75%, plan to drive 100 miles or less and will be away for a day trip. The number drops to 57% for overnight trips. Many plan to visit family or friends (43%), but as more beaches and recreation areas begin to safely open, 27% of Americans plan to hit the beach, 22% will go to state or national parks and 21% plan to enjoy a weekend of camping.

Getting behind the wheel offers several advantages when it comes to safety guidelines. This year it may also provide value as gas prices will be the lowest they’ve been for the holiday weekend in nearly two decades, according to AAA.

Even with gas prices rising this week by an average by four cents around the U.S., the national average is still just $1.87 a gallon. The last time the price was under $2 per gallon was 17 years ago — 2003. That year motorists paid, on average, $1.50 to fill-up. Gas prices this year won’t be as cheap as 2003, but today’s national average is a dollar cheaper than one year ago.

(Smog down by as much as 30%, feds find, but traffic is on the rebound.)

“Gas prices around Memorial Day have not been this cheap in nearly 20 years. However, as the country continues to practice social distancing, this year’s unofficial kick-off to summer is not going to drive the typical millions of Americans to travel,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “Despite inexpensive gas prices, AAA anticipates this year’s holiday will likely set a record low for travel volume.”

Traffic levels have been down, but high-speed crashes have increased during the pandemic.

In another pandemic-related new experience, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast due to COVID-19 impacts on the underlying economic data used to create the forecast for the first time in 20 years. Anecdotal reports suggest fewer people will hit the road compared to years past for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season.

“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend – the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”

(Empty roads mean faster speeds.)

Memorial Day 2009 currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, according to AAA. That holiday weekend, which came toward the end of the Great Recession, 26.4 million Americans traveled by car, 2.1 million by plane and nearly 2 million by other forms of transportation (train, cruise, etc.).

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