- Travelers can usually expect an increase in traffic during Thanksgiving, but there are some factors this year that may increase the traffic load.
- INRIX found that the best time to take off is after 9 pm on Wednesday and before 11 am on Thursday.
- Below are some of the worst congestion times in US traffic corridors the day before Thanksgiving.
AAA estimates that nearly 4 million more people will drive on the roads this Thanksgiving compared to last year, which means that travelers should be prepared to face an increase in traffic.
Experts say the long holiday weekend, rising vaccination rates and open US borders are all pushing more people to drive this year. A AAA report from November predicts that car traffic will fall within 3% of pre-pandemic levels, with 48.3 million people traveling by car to Thanksgiving.
“It̵[ads1]7;s a couple of really great driving holidays. … Thanksgiving is one of them,” said Bob Pishue, an analyst at INRIX. “(The traffic) will not be as bad as it was in 2019. But the roads are definitely busier than they were last year.”
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INRIX Traveler Advice: leave early
INRIX found that traffic delays across the country are expected to be approximately 40% higher than normal over Thanksgiving.
But there are ways to overcome the traffic congestion. Pishue said that morning departures tend to be ideal, especially now that there are fewer people commuting to work or school in the pandemic.
INRIX found that the best time to take off is after kl. 21.00 on Wednesday, before kl. 11.00 on Thursday and Friday and before dinner on Saturday and Sunday.
“Going in the morning is definitely the best option,” he said. “Even on a normal day, the traffic in the middle of the day and in the afternoon is quite heavy, and in many places it is as bad now as it was before COVID.
Why is traffic getting worse?
Travelers can usually expect an increase in traffic during major holidays such as Thanksgiving, but there are some factors this year that can increase congestion.
A potentially disruptive storm could hit the central and southern United States early next week, potentially bringing heavy snow, rain and wind.
Car accidents are another concern this time of year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns that drivers have made “risky decisions” since the pandemic began, including driving with impaired or without a seatbelt.
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The agency estimates that 20,160 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the first half of the year, up 18% compared to 2020 and the largest number of estimated deaths in that time frame since 2006.
NHTSA has also found an increase in disabled drivers during the holidays. From 2015 to 2019, nearly 800 people died in accidents with a drunk driver over the Thanksgiving weekend.
“If we thought it was a problem before COVID, it’s definitely a problem now,” Pishue said. “We hope to see fewer fatalities and road accidents and collisions, but with how things have gone under COVID, it’s definitely a concern.”
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Which cities have the worst Thanksgiving traffic?
Not all traffic is created equal. Here are some of the worst congestion times in US traffic corridors on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.
► Atlanta: Interstate 85 South from Clairmont Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is expected to be 340% above normal between 13:30 and 15:30
► Boston: Interstate 93 North from Quincy Market to Massachusetts Route 28 is expected to be 240% above normal between 6 p.m. 13.00 and 15.00
► Chicago: Interstate 290 West from Morgan Street to Wolfe Road is expected to be 329% above normal from 14:45 to 16:45
► Detroit: Interstate 96 West from 6 Mile Road to Walled Lake is expected to be 211% above normal from 6 p.m. 14.00 to 16.00
► Houston: Interstate 10 West from Sjolander Road to Texas State Highway 330 is expected to be 344% above normal from 3:15 pm to 5:15 pm
► The angels: Interstate 5 South from Colorado Street to Florence Avenue is expected to be 385% above normal between 15:45 and 17:45
► New York: Interstate 495 East from Borden Avenue to Little Neck Parkway is expected to be 482% above normal from 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm
► San Francisco: Interstate 80 East from Interstate 580 to San Pablo Dam Road is expected to be 278% above normal from 6 p.m. 16.00 to 18.00
► Seattle: Interstate 5 South from Washington State Route 18 to Washington State Route 7 is expected to be 257% above normal from 6 p.m. 16.00 to 18.00
► Washington DC: Interstate 95 South from Interstate 395 to Virginia State Route 123 is expected to be 230% above normal from 6 p.m. 14.00 to 16.00
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.