Print Print
December 23, 2014 Published in Traffic & Transportation

A Third Of All Americans And Four Out Of Ten Washingtonians Are Traveling For The Holidays, It Is Up To You To Keep It Safe

(Courtesy Image)

(Courtesy Image)

This time around it is the biggest travel period of the year – bar none, with 98.6 million Americans doing so –and it is getting more complicated by the day, especially for those traveling across the eastern third of the nation on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They will be dodging or driving or flying into a pair of Christmas week storms. One is christened the “Santabomb,” a play on the term weather-bomb. As always, weather can greatly affect flight schedules and traffic patterns.  “Any snow or rain could disrupt travel plans ahead of the holidays,” meteorologists warn.

By sheer volume nearly one out of three Americans are traveling 50 miles or more from home during the extended holidays (the U.S.population is 319,000,000 strong). It is the highest ever, and also one of the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year. Historically, the number of long-distance trips increases by 23% during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period, compared to the average number of long-distance trips for the remainder of the year, notes the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

This year, the 12 days of Christmas travel will morph into a 13-day travel period, explains AAA Travel. Given the length of the dual holiday seasons, traffic volumes will be more spread out during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, compared to other holidays, notes the Maryland Transportation Authority. The Authority is also advising drivers to “anticipate heavy traffic on Northbound I-95 approaching Delaware” at the Newark Toll Plaza.

Yet with nine out of ten holiday travelers hailing from the Washington metro area will make their holiday excursions by automobile. They number 2,224,000 persons, and the overall tally is 2,451,000 persons strong. Workday traffic is extremely light this week ahead of the massive exodus. The busiest period for the holiday expedition runs from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4. The eve of Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 23, will be the busiest day on area roadways, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. However, the lightest travel days are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

AAA Mid-Atlantic’s 2014 Christmas/New Year’s Travel Projections for the Washington SMSA

Total Travel & Percentage Increase Automobile Travel & Percentage Increase Air Travel & Percentage Increase Other Modes OfTravel & Percentage Increase
2,451,000 area residents;Up 3.3% from 2,371,400 in 2013.  2,224,000 persons (90.7% of area travelers)Up 3.5% from 2,148,500 folks in 2013. 132,000 persons  (5.4% of local  travelers)Up 0.1% from 131,600 residents in 2013.  95,100 persons  (3.9% of  travelers)Up 4.2% from 91,300 people in 2013.

Last Friday, Dec. 19, was the busiest travel day of the year for airline passengers, says AAATravel.  So, 132,000 persons are departing from local airports. Most of them will flock home by air next Monday, Dec. 29. A longer holiday travel period offers more options for departures and return trips, making it possible for more people to fit holiday travel into their schedules.

Due to the extended length of this holiday period, car travel accounts for an even higher share of overall travel than in other holidays. Nearly 91% of all travelers (89.5 million travelers) will take to the road this year, an increase of 4.2% from 2013.The wonder of it all: Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on a Thursday, creating a  wondrous pair of four-day holiday weekends for travelers and their “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.”

The overall length of the back-to-back holiday weekends also spawns a more deadly time on the highways, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. For example, the National Safety is estimating that nearly 800 persons will perish in car crashes this Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.  Of that number, 366 persons could die in highway crashes during Christmas week, the NSC project and another 39,200 could sustain injuries in traffic crashes that require medical attention.

The carnage on the nation’s highways returns with a vengeance in the days leading up to and after New Year’s Day, projects the NSC.  The agency is projecting car crashes will claim 421 lives and send another 45,000 persons to emergency rooms from coast to coast.  Day in and day out, 23 times per day, and every 51 minutes, someone dies in a drunk driving crash, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Last year, over 18,000 drunk driving arrests were made across the Washington metro region. Yet drunk driving incidents increase 45 percent of the holiday period.  To combat this, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program’s (WRAP) 2014 holiday SoberRide program is already in full swing, running from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. nightly from Dec. 12, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015. Since 1993, WRAP has provided over 61,002 safe rides home. In addition, AAA Mid-Atlantic and area law enforcement agencies offer the following safety tips for holiday travelers:

  • Keep an eye on the weather.
  • Buckle up for safety.
  • Slow down, especially when driving in severe weather conditions.
  • Allow more space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Brake early to allow plenty of time to stop.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding and never slam on the brakes.
  • Turn on lights to be more visible to other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Avoid distractions – such as cell phone use –while driving.
  • Stay alert and look farther down the road than you normally do; and,
  • Watch out for other drivers –don’t assume everyone else is driving as safely as you are.

AAA Mid-Atlantic anticipates it rescue approximately 74,000 stranded motorists throughout its territory (NJ, DE, PA, MD, DC, VA) during the holiday periods, including with 2,400 in Washington, D.C. proper. For purposes of the AAA holiday travel forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the 13-day period from Tuesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 4.

The year-end holiday period can range from 10 to 13 days, depending on which day of the week Christmas and New Year’s Day falls. This year’s holiday travel period (which begins Tuesday, Dec. 23, and ends Sunday, Jan. 4) will last 13 days, which is one day longer than last year's period and the longest travel period since 2008. It is notable that the last time the holiday period was 13 days was in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession.

Comments are closed.