Some parts of the country are in the next round of pandemic-related lockdowns so traveling for the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to decline this year.
However, there is plenty of research that shows the folks that are planning to trek over the hills and through the woods to Grandma’s house are definitely making that entire trip by car, minivan or SUV. According to AAA Travel, initial projections showed nearly 50 million people were going be on the roads, which would have been down from 55 million in 2019.
The implementation of COVID safety protocols is likely to drive that down even more, the group noted, adding it will likely cut it down by 10% overall. That would be the biggest one-year drop since the start of the Great Recession in 2008.
The upside to traveling by car is that it will be cheaper than it was last Thanksgiving. On average, gas prices nationally are nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year, with October averages the lowest in more than 15 years, AAA noted.
While there will be fewer vehicles on the road, that doesn’t mean that travelers need to be ready to face possible traffic-related problems. Being ready for the road may help beat projections offered by the National Safety Council, which predicts as many as 485 deaths during the four-day period. It also says 55,300 people will be “seriously injured” in crashes.
Cars.com conducted its own research, discovering 59% of Americans have had their holiday travel plans affected by the pandemic. Of those that will travel, 72% of them will drive to their destination and they’re not going too far: less than 100 miles.
“We’ve been watching consumer travel habits since the onset of the pandemic, and there have been two consistent themes — the pandemic is obviously affecting people’s travel plans, but when people do travel, the majority drive by car because of the safety and freedom cars provide. We are seeing these themes continue for holiday travel this year,” said Jenni Newman, Cars.com editor-in-chief.
Despite the fact that there will be fewer people on the roads, many of the same suggestions to make the trip safer and quicker are still applicable, such as avoiding large cities, which 44% of those interviewed said they were planning to do.
Traffic congestion peaks the weekend before Thanksgiving. While travel is down, expect the highest congestion the weekend before (37%), followed by the day before Thanksgiving (13%) and Thanksgiving Day (19%). As it gets closer to Thanksgiving, the local hours between 9 a.m. and noon are expected to be the busiest for travel Nov. 25 and 26.
“While personal vehicles present a safer option for holiday travel, it’s important for drivers and their passengers to stay vigilant and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and local COVID-19 rules and restrictions,” said Newman in a statement.
The NSC also notes that few drivers on the roads occasionally encourages drivers to abandon reason and drive as if they are the only people on the road. Through the first six months of this year, the number of crashes remained steady, but the death rate in those incidents rose 20% compared with year-ago figures.
“We’ve noted several times this year that open roads should not be an open invitation for reckless driving,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “We urge drivers to remain vigilant about their own safety if they decide to travel. If every driver would slow down, buckle up, drive sober and pay attention, we could have a holiday of zero fatalities, which is the only acceptable number.”