More vehicles will be on the road this Memorial Day as Americans take to vacation spots. AAA projects that 34.6 million Americans will drive over the holiday weekend, an increase of more than 1 million compared with last year and the highest total since 2005.
More than 88 percent of all travelers will drive to their destinations over the long weekend. The expected total of nearly 35 million drivers represents a 2.4 percent increase over Memorial Day 2016.
That makes the holiday ripe for potentially fatal traffic accidents. The more vehicles on the road, the more likely collisions are to occur, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Memorial Day “marks the beginning of the most hazardous stretch on the nation’s roads with warmer weather and more driving,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for IIHS.
New Year’s Day and Independence Day have the highest likelihood of serious accidents, the study found. Each holiday averaged about 140 deaths on U.S. roads between 1998 and 2004. The study also found that weekends and certain holidays tend to lead to increased alcohol consumption.
Memorial Day does not rank as one of the highest single days for traffic deaths, but that may be because the driving is spread out over three days, Rader said.
The average number of deaths per day increases as the weather warms. IIHS data shows the figure tops 100 deaths per day in April and reaches 116 per day through July and August.
An average of 139 people died per day on Saturdays, followed by Sunday and Friday as the most dangerous. The most dangerous time of day is the late afternoon and evening, between 3 and 7 p.m.
Rising gas prices will not keep drivers off the roads this holiday, according to AAA data.
“Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day,” said Bill Sutherland, a vice president at AAA.
The increased traffic can also cause issues for the trucking industry.
“Truck drivers, like me, who continue to deliver goods during the holiday weekend hope that all motorists will go to great lengths to insure safety,” said Tim Melody of carrier ABF Freight, in a statement from the American Trucking Associations.
Through its Share the Road program, ATA recommends that motorists be aware of truck blind spots, leave extra space for vehicles ahead and avoid cutting in front of large trucks.
The highest number of fatal auto accidents occur in summer and early fall, with weekends more dangerous than weekdays, according to IIHS. Alcohol consumption remains an important factor in serious traffic accidents, and the Memorial Day weekend sees an 11 percent rise in drinking-related hospital visits according to a 2010 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Rader said that Americans should refrain from drinking and driving, buckle their seatbelts, wear motorcycle helmets and pay attention to their speed.
“Traffic deaths are all preventable and the summer death toll could be a lot less grim with simple precautions,” he said.