Photo: Evan Lockridge

Photo: Evan Lockridge

Traffic this year-end holiday season is projected to be at a record level, according to the motorist group AAA.

It estimates 98.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the season, an increase of 4% percent from the 94.8 million people who traveled last year.

This upward trend marks the highest forecast growth rate for the year-end holiday season since 2009 and the highest travel volume for the holiday period on record, which dates back to 2001.

The year-end holiday period is defined by AAA as Dec. 23 through Jan 4.

Nearly 91% of all travelers, 89.5 million, will take a road trip, an increase of 4.2% from 2013, while air travel is forecast to increase 1% from last year with 5.7 million travelers taking to the skies.

Low gas prices continue to help boost disposable income this holiday season, according to AAA, with today's national average price of gas far less than a year ago.

"While the economy continues to improve at an uneven pace, it seems more Americans are looking forward with increasing consumer confidence, rather than looking back at the recession,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA president and CEO. This is helping to drive expected travel volumes to the highest level we have seen for the year-end holidays."

AAA said the calendar is also having a positive effect on the number of travelers expected this year. This year the holidays land on a Thursday, creating a holiday travel season that is one day longer than last year's and the longest since 2008, offering travelers more options for departures and return trips. This flexibility makes it possible for more people to fit holiday travel into their schedules.

Meantime, the National Safety Council has released its traffic fatality estimates for the Christmas Day and New Year's Day holiday periods.

It projects 366 deaths and another 39,200 injuries requiring medical attention may occur because of car crashes during the Christmas Day holiday period. An estimated 421 deaths and 45,000 injuries requiring medical attention may occur during the New Year's Day holiday period.

NSC defines the Christmas holiday period as beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24 and ending at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 28. The New Year's Day holiday period begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31 and ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 4.

If the actual number of highway deaths hit both projections, they would be an increase in levels from 2013, the most recent year figures are available.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet