Expect a crowded holiday travel week across Utah.
Traffic safety officials everywhere were urging patience and caution Monday, with millions of Americans expected to hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Holiday travelers traditionally make for unsafe drivers — they’re more often away from home on unfamiliar roads and are more likely to get drowsy or to have been drinking —and law enforcement agency expected to up their patrols with additional cars to handle increased numbers of incidents.
The auto club AAA announced it planned to rescue an estimated 1,200 Utah motorists during the five days that make up the Thanksgiving travel period.
“In most cases, the best days to travel will be on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday,” Michael Blasky, spokesperson for AAA Utah, said in an email. “Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend.”
AAA expected more than 54 million Americans to travel this holiday season, a 5 percent increase over last year. That would represent the busiest holiday travel week since 2005.
“Consumers have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season: higher wages, more disposable income and rising levels of household wealth,” Blasky said. “This is translating into more travelers kicking off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway, building on a positive year for the travel industry.”
Heading to Salt Lake? Except delays
For motorists headed to the Wasatch Front, the Utah Department of Transportation warned of traffic delays along Interstate 15, with trips through Salt Lake and Utah counties expected to take about 20 minutes longer than usual, according to an advisory sent out Monday.
UDOT engineers predicted increased traffic for southbound travelers Wednesday between 2 and 8 p.m., with northbound traffic getting heavier between 1 and 7 p.m.
“UDOT encourages drivers to make Zero Fatalities their goal this Thanksgiving and avoid unsafe driving behaviors,” according to an email from John Gleason, UDOT public information officer. “There is a higher rate of fatal crashes over the Thanksgiving holiday than during the other winter months, despite overall crash totals being lower. This weekend, avoid drowsy, distracted, or aggressive driving.”
According to the Utah Safety Council, Thanksgiving week has the highest travel rates of the year, with almost 90 percent of those travelers going by motor vehicle.
Accidents are also frequent, with some 50 people dying from car crashes in the past decade statewide, and hundreds more injured. The National Safety Council counted 386 people being killed in car accidents on Thanksgiving Day across the U.S. in 2015, the latest year included in the organization’s most recent “Injury Facts” report.
The Utah Highway Patrol has recommended drivers stay patient, keep their seatbelts on and be aware of safety tips.
Thanksgiving travel by the numbers
According to holiday travel predictions from AAA, the Thanksgiving season is expected to be the busiest in more than a decade. Some of its key projections include:
- The vast majority of travelers — 48.5 million — will hit the road for Thanksgiving, nearly 5 percent more than last year. Motorists can expect to pay the highest Thanksgiving gas prices in four years, with a statewide average of $3.00 as of November 5, 50 cents more than a year ago.
- Nearly 4.3 million travelers will take flight, representing the largest growth in holiday travel. Most travelers booked their flights for Thanksgiving between September 23 and October 25, paying an average ticket price of $478 roundtrip.
- Travelers can expect to save on car rentals this Thanksgiving holiday season. At $63, the average daily rate is 10 percent less than last year.
- Travelers can also save on AAA Three Diamond hotels, with an average nightly rate at $166, a decline of six percent compared to last year. Conversely, the average rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels has increased six percent with an average nightly cost of $124.