CARS.COM — Driving to your Memorial Day weekend destination this year is probably gonna suck at least a little bit. Unless you enjoy sitting in traffic or jockeying for a gas-pump position at a chaotic travel plaza, the nearly 34 million other motorists hitting the highways for the holiday should make getting there half as fun.
AAA is projecting 38 million Americans will travel for the extended Memorial Day weekend, for which stats are counted from Thursday through May 30. Car travel is expected to account for 89 percent of that figure. All told, AAA says it’ll be the second-busiest Memorial Day on record — with an estimated 700,000 more people joining the nation’s collective caravan compared with last year, a 2.1 percent spike.
Fueling the fire of wanderlust, literally, is the continued flow of cheap gas. Despite recent upticks putting an end to months of gas prices less than $2 a gallon, motorists this Memorial Day weekend will still enjoy the lowest holiday fuel prices since “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” topped the Hollywood box office in 2005. With an anticipated average of about $2.26 a gallon — 45 cents a gallon less than 2015 — 55 percent of respondents in a recent AAA survey cited cheap gas as their incentive for taking a road trip.
“AAA estimates that Americans have saved more than $15 billion on gas so far this year compared to the same period in 2015, and prices are at the lowest levels in 11 years,” AAA said in a statement. “The strong labor market and rising personal income are also motivating people to travel for Memorial Day this year.”
Among the top 10 holiday destinations are Orlando, Fla.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Miami; and South Padre Island, Texas, according to AAA. As Americans make for warmer climes, the travel-services giant projects that it will come to the aid of 350,000 motorists for dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires. To avoid this, AAA recommends travelers check their car batteries before embarking on their journey, and have a trusted mechanic perform a pre-trip inspection of their vehicle.
But beyond breakdowns are the potentially graver consequences of highway travel. The National Safety Council last year estimated that around 400 traffic fatalities would occur over the Memorial Day holiday. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that rising speed limits on U.S. highways between 1993 and 2013 resulted in 33,000 driving deaths that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.
The simplest thing every motorist should do — as required by law — to protect themselves and their passengers is to ensure all vehicle occupants properly wear their seat belt. If dramatically reducing one’s chances of dying in an accident isn’t sufficient motivation, law enforcement agencies across the nation will be participating in the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign — kicking off Monday and running through June 5 — to provide some extra incentive. During this time, law enforcement officers will be out in full force encouraging drivers and passengers to buckle up, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement.
Despite the national seat belt use rate rising to nearly 89 percent as of 2014 (Illinois’ compliance rate was 94 percent, the nation’s highest), nearly half of vehicle occupants killed in accidents that year were unrestrained.
“Thousands of Americans are alive today because a seat belt saved them during a crash,” NHTSA stated. “In 2014, the use of seat belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 12,802 lives. From 2010 to 2014, seat belts saved an estimated 63,000 lives.”