Memorial Day weekend: Travel ‘will be on fire’ as summer kicks off

Delays are building on metro Atlanta's interstates Friday afternoon as drivers head out of town for Memorial Day weekend in this 2021 AJC file photo.

Credit: Georgia Department of Transportation

Combined ShapeCaption
Delays are building on metro Atlanta's interstates Friday afternoon as drivers head out of town for Memorial Day weekend in this 2021 AJC file photo.

Credit: Georgia Department of Transportation

The unofficial kickoff for summer will be a busy one on the roads. The American Automobile Association, or AAA, predicts nearly 35 million people will travel by car during Memorial Day weekend.

That’s an increase of 4.6% over the number who took road trips last year, according to the auto club. Many appear to be asking “what pandemic?” and returning to vacationing, despite the increase in gas prices.

“Memorial Day is always a good predictor of what’s to come for summer travel,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a news release. “Based on our projections, summer travel isn’t just heating up, it will be on fire. People are overdue for a vacation and they are looking to catch up on some much-needed R&R in the coming months.”

Those not taking road trips will be flying, taking buses, or cruises, meaning an estimated 39.2 million people will travel for the holiday weekend, the AAA said.

Those in metro Atlanta are among the millions planning to hit the roads for the long weekend. And that means metro interstates will be more jammed than usual.

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May 27, 2021 Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport: The Delta ticket counters were swarmed as crowds have returned to AtlantaÕs Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for the Memorial Day weekend travel period as seen on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

May 27, 2021 Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport: The Delta ticket counters were swarmed as crowds have returned to AtlantaÕs Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for the Memorial Day weekend travel period as seen on Thursday, May 27, 2021.  (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
May 27, 2021 Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport: The Delta ticket counters were swarmed as crowds have returned to AtlantaÕs Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for the Memorial Day weekend travel period as seen on Thursday, May 27, 2021. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

INRIX, a transportation analytics company, says May 26 and 27 will be heavy travel days, possibly doubling the normal commute time.

“Even with a significant increase in gas prices, we expect a large jump in holiday driving compared to the last few years,” said Bob Pishue, INRIX transportation analyst. “Drivers should expect congestion on major roadways around big cities and popular destinations. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic.”

In metro Atlanta, for those planning to head south for the weekend, expect I-75 in Henry County to begin filling up as early as 11 a.m. the Friday before the holiday, according to the WSB Traffic Center. North of Atlanta, the stretch of I-75 southbound between Cartersville and Marietta will also begin to fill, according to Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic for WSB radio.

“We expect traffic to get really busy during the midday hours Friday, peak early, and then start dropping off earlier than a normal day,” Turnbull said. “But we have noticed in the months after the pandemic’s heights that traffic is also less predictable than it used to be. So drivers, no matter when, need to plan extra time and patience.”

In 2021, 20 people were killed on Georgia roads during the Memorial Day weekend holiday, according to the Georgia State Patrol. At least 16 were killed over the Labor Day weekend in September, the State Patrol previously reported.

State troopers and local police agencies will be out in full force to help keep roadways safe for travelers.


STAYING SAFE OVER MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

If you’re planning a weekend road trip, experts say take these precautions to keep yourself and your family safe.

1. Plan ahead. Before heading out, make sure any needed vehicle repairs have been made and check the air pressure in the tires, along with fluids and brakes. Have a first-aid kit and any other emergency supplies ready.

2. Obey the posted speed limit. When you exceed the speed limit, you reduce the amount of available time needed to avoid a traffic crash.

3. Do not drive impaired. Designate a sober driver, or call a taxi, ride-sharing service, friend or family member to help you get home safely.

4. Buckle up. Make sure everyone in the vehicle wears a seat belt and that children are properly restrained in the appropriate child safety seats.

6. Pay attention. Limit your distractions, and never use electronic devices to text or surf the web while driving. The Hands-Free Georgia Act prohibits all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.

Sources: Georgia State Patrol and AAA