As the Labor Day 2013 holiday approaches, two national organizations are forecasting increases in both the number of travelers on the road and the number of deaths caused by accidents. AAA anticipates that 34.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more during the holiday, a 4.2% spike from 2012’s 32.7 million. Meanwhile, the National Safety Council predicts 394 traffic deaths will occur this year, a nearly 6% increase over the previous year.
AAA, which defines the Labor Day travel period as Aug. 29 through Sept. 2, estimates that 29.2 million Americans, 85% of the total, will drive to and from their destination, a 4.3% increase from 2012; more than 2.6 million will fly, while the balance will take trains, buses or watercraft. The average traveler is expected to cover a round-trip distance of 594 miles, 32 miles less than less year, while spending an average of $804, a more than 7% increase.
"AAA is forecasting a lift in Labor Day travel this year due to the increasingly positive economic outlook and optimism in the housing market," AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet said in a statement. "For many Americans, their home is also their biggest asset, as home prices improve in many parts of the country more families are feeling comfortable about traveling this Labor Day holiday."
Another motivating factor in Americans' travel decisions is the reduced price of fuel compared with 2012. As of mid-August, AAA reported, prices on average were down 2.7% per gallon from 2012, when gas was $3.83 per gallon — the most expensive ever for the holiday. But with that break in gas prices comes substantial increases in car-rental, airfare and lodging rates, AAA stated.
Moreover, as the number of travelers on the highways goes up, so will the number of fatalities and injuries resulting from traffic accidents, according to the National Safety Council, which defines the holiday travel period as 6 p.m. Aug. 30 through 11:59 p.m. Sept. 2. The council estimates 394 people will die in auto accidents and another 42,200 will require medical treatment for related injuries. Although the forecast is 21 deaths higher than last year, it’s still a more than 22% drop from the seven-year high of 508 in 2007.
The council estimates that the death toll could be reduced drastically — by an estimated 143 — if vehicle occupants buckle up. Other safety recommendations include:
Establishing a distraction-free zone, especially in cars equipped with electronic devices.
Making sure all children are in safety seats appropriate to their age and size.
Allowing plenty of travel time to avoid frustration and the urge to speed.
Driving defensively and exercising caution, especially in poor weather conditions.
Designating a sober driver or planning for alternative transportation if alcohol is consumed.
Thousands of law-enforcement agencies, state and local safety advocates, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are participating in the 2013 "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign in an effort to reduce the number of drunken-driving deaths during the holiday; in 2011, 138 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes nationwide. The campaign, which began Aug. 16 and runs through Sept. 2, promotes high-visibility enforcement of drunken-driving laws as a way to reduce fatalities.