Trucks at Work

Of holiday traffic and highway deaths

No one wants to think about traffic jams and roadway fatalities when the nation goes on holiday; though in some ways Memorial Day weekend is a good time to contemplate such sobering material, as this is a time dedicated for America to pause, reflect, and appreciate military service members who gave their lives defending this nation at home and abroad.

Yet holidays are a time for vacation travel, too, with Memorial Day weekend regarded as the traditional start of the “summer driving season” in the U.S. Indeed, last year, AAA said some 32.1 million travelers took a trip away from home over the Memorial Day weekend – up from 30.5 million in 2011 and an increase of 5.4% over 2009 travel volumes.

Based on economic forecasting by Boston-based research firm IHS Global Insight, AAA noted 87% of Memorial Day weekend travel last year occurred via automobile; meaning 28 million people hit the roads, an increase of 5.8% from the same weekend in 2011.

Yet such travel volumes come with consequences.

Traffic information provider INRIX, for example, predicts Memorial Day traffic will increase an average of 4% this year versus 2012 – a trend consistent with data drawn from the INRIX Traffic Scorecard report released last month showing traffic congestion back on the rise in 62 of the top 100 U.S. cities after two years of declines.

The firm also offered some “rules of thumb” to four-wheelers regarding holiday highway travel planning; something truckers should keep an eye on, too, as they’ll be affected by increased travel volumes this upcoming Memorial Day weekend as well:

  • Friday will be the busiest getaway day. While not as intense as a typical Friday, the afternoon rush hour period will start much earlier with traffic building as early as 1 p.m., with traffic congestion peaking between one to two hours earlier than normal.
  • Leave early or leave late. To avoid delays getting out of town for the weekend, INRIX advises drivers to leave before noon or after 6 p.m. on Friday evening to avoid the heaviest traffic.
  • Monday afternoon will be the busiest return day. While the Monday return trip will be lighter than the Friday getaway, INRIX's analysis shows the busiest time to be on the roads will be between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Of course, more cars on the road unfortunately means more crashes. Indeed, the National Safety Council estimates for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend – which it said starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 24, and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, May 27 – some 407 traffic fatalities and another 43,500 medically consulted injuries may occur due to motor vehicle collisions.

Based on the data gathered between 2006 and 2011, NSC said fatalities from crashes during the Memorial Day holiday period average 12.86% of the total fatalities in May.

[You can peruse a more detailed breakdown of NSC’s fatality and injury estimates by clicking here.]

Even so, the estimated fatality total for 2013 is 7% less than the average actual number of fatalities that occurred during the previous six Memorial Day holiday periods for which data are available – a factoid likely due in part to the continuing struggles of the U.S. economy.

Let’s just hope the final fatality and injury numbers stay low on our roadways during the Memorial Day weekend.

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