Thursday will mark the start of a busy holiday travel season, and AAA Texas expects that like Thanksgiving, the travel volume will reach near pre-pandemic levels.
"So, Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, AAA is predicting that 8.8 million Texans will travel 50 miles or more for leisure over the holiday period," said AAA Texas Spokesperson Daniel Armbruster. "That's a 32% increase over 2020, but it's still 8% shy of what we saw in 2019, pre-pandemic."
Armbruster said while most will go by car, 505,000 Texans are expected to travel by air, bus, train, and cruise.
"When we look at air travel, that's up 177% over last year," he added. "We're looking at 334,000 Texans that will fly for leisure in the holiday period, and then another 171,000 will either take a bus, a train, or a cruise in that period, and so that's up over 190% over last year."
AAA predictions show travel by bus, train, and cruise ship will see the biggest growth, and Armbruster said the main reason for the spike in that category is because cruises are now a factor again.
Cruising was halted in March 2020 due to the pandemic. It started back again in July, when Carnival Cruise Line launched the first cruise ship from a U.S. port in over a year from the Port of Galveston.
Still, Armbruster said traveling by car will continue to be the main mode of travel, with 8.3 million Texans expected on the road. He said statewide, drivers on any major highway should be prepared for delays, and Houston is expected to see the biggest traffic out of any city in Texas during the year-end travel period.
"One thing to note, because so many people will be driving in the Houston area, if you are driving on Jan. 2 that will be one of the busiest days in the travel period when folks are returning home," Armbruster added. "That evening, traffic volumes could be 195% over normal."
Armbruster said with so many people on the roads, it's important drivers follow all state laws including "Move Over, Slow Down." It requires people to slow down 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit or move a lane over when approaching certain vehicles on the side of the road, like law enforcement vehicles and tow trucks. Armbruster said motorists should also do the same for fellow drivers.
"We know oftentimes drivers are distracted and of course, they may not see a driver on the shoulder of the roadway that's broken down, and many times, we've seen those drivers who have broken down on the side of the road are struck and killed while outside that disabled vehicle," Armbruster said.
Texas leads the nation in the number of people killed along roadways while outside a disabled vehicle.
According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 263 people lost their lives from 2015 through 2019 while on the side of the road in Texas. They included law enforcement officers and tow truck drivers.