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Holiday Driving Rise Means Crowded Highways Over Christmas And New Years

If you’re taking a road trip this holiday season, be prepared to meet plenty of fellow travelers on the highway.   AAA is estimating a record 93.3 million American drivers will be hitting the road for the holidays.  That’s an increase of 1.6% over last year and just 400,000 people less than the biggest holiday travel year in 2006. 

The high price of plane travel is blamed for the increase in driving this holiday season.  The highest travel days will occur between December 22 and January 1, when 84.4 million Americans will take to the road.  That means that roughly one-quarter of all Americans will be driving at least 50 miles during that time, making for crowded highways, rest stops, toll booths and off-ramp gas stations.

U.S. gas prices are at an average of $3.23 per gallon, which is roughly what drivers paid during last year’s holiday season.  Although the price is relatively high, the fact that it’s come down over the last few months helps drivers justify driving long distances, versus going by plane.  Prices are expected to range from $3.20 to $3.40 a gallon between Christmas and New Years.

AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet says, “The year-end holiday season remains the least volatile of all travel holidays as Americans will not let economic conditions or high gas prices dictate if they go home for the holidays or kick off the New Year with a vacation.”

The rise in Christmas and New Year’s driving follows an upsurge in road travel during Labor Day, when roads saw a 2.9% rise over last year.  The Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays also saw driving increases of 1.2% and 4.9%, respectively.  

AAA’s travel survey was performed by IHS Global Insight and is based on interviews with 655 people about their holiday travel plans.

Approximately 15 million people will avail themselves of the nation’s airlines between Dec. 17 and Jan. 6, a figure that’s up from 2011’s holiday air travel figure.