Holiday travel has officially returned. Estimates for this Memorial Day weekend are outpacing the previous year's tally by nearly 3 percent for the busiest holiday in a dozen years. Unfortunately, with more cars come more crashes, more injuries and more deaths.
AAA projects that 39.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home — 1 million more than last year — 34.6 million, or 88.1 percent, of whom will drive. That's an increase of 2.4 percent for motorist volume over 2016 and the third consecutive year of Memorial Day travel growth overall.
"Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending," AAA Senior Vice President Bill Sutherland said in a statement, "and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day."
That's despite the fact that motorists are expected to pay the highest gas prices for the holiday since 2015, at national average of more than $2.36 a gallon for regular as of Tuesday — 13 cents a gallon more than last year. Travelers' greatest concern, however, won't be their fuel costs. AAA anticipates coming to the rescue of 330,000 motorists between Thursday and Monday, most commonly for lockouts, flat tires and dead batteries.
Traffic Deaths to Spike
Worse still, the National Safety Council estimates the highway death toll over the holiday weekend could reach 409, the highest since 2012 and a 12 percent increase over the average of 364 during the past six Memorial Day counting periods. Moreover, 47,000 serious injuries are expected to result from traffic crashes. These estimates mirror an upward trend in traffic deaths, NSC stated, citing a 6 percent spike in 2016 and more than double that percentage since 2014 — the steepest upswing in more than half a century.
"Memorial Day should mark the start of summer — not the start of another deadly driving season," said Deborah Hersman, NSC CEO and president. "Paying attention, slowing down and being courteous can ensure you and your fellow travelers make it to picnics, beaches and barbecues rather than emergency rooms."
The NSC offered these tips for reducing driving dangers:
Wear a seat belt every single time you're in the car, as buckling up is projected to save 159 lives this weekend.
Restrain children in age-, height- and weight-appropriate car seats.
Don't drive drunk or drugged; use a designated driver if you imbibe.
Get plenty of sleep before a car trip, and take regular breaks to stave off fatigue.
Avoid distracted driving by refraining from using smartphones or other devices, even those with hands-free functions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also offered some advice for holiday car travelers:
Check your vehicle's tire pressure, wiper blades, fluid levels, lights and air conditioning before you hit the road.
Check for outstanding safety recalls on your car using NHTSA's vehicle identification number lookup tool.
Pack an emergency roadside kit containing a mobile phone and charger, first-aid kit, flashlight, flares, jumper cables, drinking water and blankets.