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Record number of travelers hit the roads ahead of July 4 holiday

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A record number of Americans are expected to travel this weekend ahead of the July 4 holiday, according to AAA projections.

Among those traveling 50 miles or more away from home, an unprecedented 43.2 million people will drive representing a 2.4% year-over-year increase. This year’s figure is 4% higher than 2019.

AAA attributed the year-over-year increase in road traffic to lower gas prices, which are about $3.50 per gallon this year compared to $4.80 per gallon last July 4.

In total, about 50.7 million Americans are expected to vacation at least 50 miles away from home, traveling by various modes to reach their destinations. Travelers will outnumber last year’s figure by about 2.1 million people and top the previous record of 49 million travelers set in 2019, AAA said.

“We’ve never projected travel numbers this high for Independence Day weekend,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “What this tells us is that despite inventory being limited and some prices 50% higher, consumers are not cutting back on travel this summer. Many of them heeded our advice and booked early, another sign of strong travel demand.”

She said AAA is seeing a demand for “iconic cities,” international vacation packages, and all-inclusive cruises.

The increased road traffic could also see repairers with a busier workload throughout the weekend and beyond, as heavier vehicle traffic statistically leads to more crashes.

A number of state and local police departments have indicated they plan to increase their presence to nab or discourage impaired drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 1,460 drivers were killed in collisions throughout the July 4 holiday period from 2017 through 2022. It said 38% of those drivers were drunk.

NHTSA’s Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving campaign aims to educate people on the dangers of getting behind the wheel with even small amounts of alcohol in their system.

Transportation data provider INRIX said Friday will be the busiest day for road traffic with travel times up 30% over normal periods. Major cities such as Boston, Seattle, and Washington will likely see the most significant congestion, it said.

“With record-breaking travelers expected on the road this holiday weekend, drivers should prepare for above-average delays to their favorite destinations,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Using traffic apps, local DOT notifications, and 511 services are key to minimizing holiday travel traffic frustrations this Independence Day.”

For those still planning to hit the roads this weekend, AAA recommends traveling before 12 p.m. Saturday, and said there should be a minimal traffic impact on both Sunday and Monday. On July 4, traveling before 11 a.m. or after 6 a.m. is best, it added.

This year’s travel figures include 4.17 million people flying to their destinations, an 11.2% year-over-year increase and a 6.6% increase over 2019. Air travel is also expected to reach a historic level, outpacing the record 3.91 million people who flew to their destinations in 2019.

Although both air and road traffic has reached new levels, those traveling by other means have not. AAA said while the 3.36 million people traveling by bus, cruise, or train this weekend represents a 24% year-over-year increase, it’s not expected to beat 2009’s 3.54 million travelers.


Featured image credit: MCCAIG/iStock

Charts provided by AAA

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