Holiday travel expected to hit all-time high; fatalities may climb as well

| 12/16/2004

With holiday travel projected to hit its highest level ever thanks to back-to-back Christmas and New Year’s weekend holidays, state and federal officials are also anticipating an increase in holiday traffic fatalities.

AAA estimates that 62.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 3 percent increase from last year’s 60.8 million travelers.

“With Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on Saturdays, many people will make weekend getaways to be with friends and family,” said AAA Travel Vice President Sandra Hughes.

The downside to the anticipated record number of travelers, combined with an anticipated increased number of impaired drivers on the road, is the prospect of the fatality rate increasing as well.

The record travel this holiday could result in a surge of traffic deaths, according to AAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of the nearly 51 million travelers AAA expects to be on the roads this holiday season, many will be traveling on some of the most dangerous travel days of the year, NHTSA warned.

NHTSA projections show approximately 410 people will die in motor vehicle crashes during each of the two holiday periods, resulting in 820 fatalities. Forty-five percent of these fatalities will involve an impaired driver – blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

“Losing the equivalent of a fully loaded airliner every week to impaired driving is not acceptable,” said Jeffrey W. Runge, NHTSA Administrator. “This holiday season and every day, our message is simple – always designate a sober driver and buckle up every trip, every time.”

The Governors’ Highway Safety Association noted that 40 states are conducting special holiday crackdowns to keep the roadways safe.

“As highway safety officials, we are sick and tired of the needless tragedies caused by drunken driving. To those who insist on endangering themselves and others, our message is simple: You will pay a serious price,” said Col. Jim Champagne, Chairman of GHSA. “Police will be enforcing the law this holiday season and there will be no exceptions and no excuses.”

Approximately 50.9 million travelers (81 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 2.9 percent increase from the 49.4 million who drove a year ago.

The greatest portion of holiday travel by vehicle will originate in the Southeast with 13.3 million, followed by the West, 12.9 million; Midwest, 10.3 million; the Great Lakes, 8.0 million; and the Northeast, 6.4 million.

Cities are the expected destination for 40 percent of Christmas-New Year’s travelers, followed by towns/rural areas at 29 percent, according to AAA. Oceans and beaches are popular, getting 15 percent of travelers, followed by mountain areas, 7 percent; 2 percent for lake areas; and 1 percent each for theme/amusement parks and state/national parks. Another 4 percent responded with other, and 1 percent said they didn’t know.