If you’re road-tripping this holiday weekend, you’re in good company. With U.S. gasoline prices the lowest in more than a decade, July 4 travelers are expected to hit the road in record numbers.
Nearly 43 million Americans will travel for Independence Day, the highest volume on record, according to AAA in its annual July 4 travel forecast. The nation’s largest motoring group estimates 85% will travel by car as drivers take advantage of the lowest pump prices since 2005.
"It’s prompting more drivers to take to the road," Nadia Anderson, manager of federal affairs at AAA, said in an interview. "We’re seeing more people decide to take that trip 50 miles or more away from their home."
The average retail price for gasoline is down 17% from this time last year, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA. Regular unleaded gasoline slid to $2.32 a gallon June 23, the cheapest price for this time of year since 2005.
Another incentive for travelers to grab the car keys this Fourth of July is the extra day off from work with the federal holiday falling on a Monday. This year marks the third consecutive three-day weekend for July 4.
"It’s kind of a perfect storm," Anderson said.
Five million more Americans are expected to travel July 4 weekend than they did this past Memorial Day weekend, AAA forecasts.
With droves of Americans heading to the highway, Anderson said drivers should expect heavier traffic, especially the Friday before the holiday and on Monday afternoon. In its calculations, AAA defines the holiday weekend as the five-day period between Thursday, June 30 and Monday, July 4.
"School’s out, people are starting to vacation, and they’re driving instead of flying," said John Auers, executive vice president at Turner Mason & Co., a Dallas-based energy consultancy. "We’ll see strong demand all summer."
Americans used an average of 9.72 million barrels of gasoline a day in the four weeks ending June 17, the highest level recorded since the Energy Information Administration started collecting weekly consumption data in 1991.
Still, America’s travel bug may start to wane as oil prices rise, Auers said.
"This isn’t going to continue. Gasoline demand growth is going to slow," he said. "In the short term, low prices have really pushed consumers to travel more."