AAA Forecasts More Thanksgiving Travelers on the Road This Year

There will be hundreds of thousands of more drivers on the road during Thanksgiving week than there were last year, according to the AAA, and the estimate means that this year is the fourth one in a row that the U.S. sees more travelers during the holiday.

A total of 43.6 million people will be going 50 miles or more between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25, a 0.7 percent jump from the 43.3 million traveling last year, according to the AAA. Ninety percent of those, or 39.1 million, will be traveling by car, an increase of 0.6 percent from 2011.

An increase in car rental rates is accompanying the increase in car usage, with daily rental rates jumping $10, going from $37 last year to $47 this year.

Along with a 1.7 percent decrease in the number of air travelers, this year’s increase in car travel has also impacted the average distance traveled compared with last year, falling 16.7 percent, from 706 miles to 588 miles.

Risk for Fatal Crashes Goes Up During Holiday

Groups are warning motorists that more people on the road means higher risk for all manner of roadway incidents. Unfortunately, fatal crashes are likelier, too.

“With substantially increased traffic volume over a short period, this combination is a recipe for potential disaster,” Dr. Allen Parrish, a professor at the University of Alabama and director of its Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS), said in a statement.

While speeding, driving while intoxicated and weather all contribute to fatal crashes, those factors are “exaggerated by the activity of Thanksgiving week,” according to CAPS.

The research institute found that speeding was a significant problem for Alabamians during the holiday, when speeding was reported as the “primary contributing circumstance” in twice as many crashes when compared with other weeks in the year.

In 2010, there were 431 deaths behind the wheel during the Thanksgiving period running from Wednesday night to Monday morning, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) that is maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA).

That figure puts the Thanksgiving period’s fatality numbers above other holidays measured by FARS, including New Year’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Thanksgiving period, however, is the only four-day holiday period; all others were three-day periods.

FARS also shows that a relatively high percentage of fatal crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday involved drunk driving. Forty percent of fatal collisions during the Thanksgiving period in 2010 involved drivers with blood alcohol concentrations at the legal limit (0.08) or greater. Only New Year’s Day had a higher rate, at 48 percent, while Memorial Day showed the same 40 percent rate.

Drunk Driving Carries Insurance Implications

With the higher rates of drunk drivers on roadways during the holidays, it’s important to remember the impact that driving under the influence could have on insurance rates.

Motorists convicted of DUIs can be labeled risky drivers that require high-risk car insurance, a more expensive form of coverage to compensate for their heightened risk. Some insurance carriers who don’t offer high-risk coverage will simply cancel a policyholder’s coverage after a DUI.

An analysis from OnlineAutoInsurance.com found much higher rates after a DUI for a sample male driver living in Los Angeles.

The analysis used four different ages in the sample profile and retrieved insurance premium data from between 8 and 11 insurers, depending on how many were willing to offer coverage.

The analysis found that, for a 20-year-old, a DUI could boost the cost of an insurance policy by as much as 76 percent and as low as 25 percent. The average price hike was a 55 percent increase, meaning about an extra $1,169, according to the analysis.

For a 25-year-old driver, a DUI conviction would increase the average policy cost by 65 percent. A DUI could bring higher insurance costs ranging from 26 percent to 97 percent, according to the analysis.

Groups Urge Safety

This year, the campaign from the NHTSA during Thanksgiving is emphasizing seat belt use as its safety message.

“I don’t care if grandma’s house is just around the corner. Buckle up this Thanksgiving,” reads one NHTSA public service announcement.

The NHSTA also recently released a survey showing that a record-high 86 percent of motorists in the U.S. buckle up, a 2 percent increase from 2011. Seat belt use rates have been increasing since 1994, according to the agency.

The results were most visible in southern states, where seat belt use rose from 80 percent last year to 85 percent this year.

“When it comes to driving safely, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your family is to use a seat belt,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “This Thanksgiving holiday, we’re urging everyone on our roadways to buckle up—every trip, every time.”

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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