Red, white and wait: July 4 drivers face brutal holiday traffic

Record number of Americans set to travel

Car trips in and around 10 of America’s biggest cities can take up to four times as long over the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, according to INRIX, a global mobility analytics company which measures travel volume. The worst offender is New York — where a typical one-hour jaunt could stretch into a 228-minute nightmare.

Here’s why: AAA reports that a record 49 million Americans plan to make a July 4 holiday getaway by car.  They expect overall travel volume for the holiday to increase 4.1% over last year; that’s an additional 1.9 million road trips and other vacations.

Worst drive times

“With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays around our major metros,” says INRIX transportation analyst Trevor Reed. “Although travel times are expected to nominally increase throughout the week, Wednesday afternoon (July 3) will be the worst time to be on the road.” That’s when holiday travelers will share the roads with commuters.

No Independence from Traffic

CityWorst DayWorst TimeDelay  
AtlantaJuly 55-7pm2.5x
BostonJuly 510am-noon3.4x
ChicagoJuly 51-3pm2x
DetroitJuly 32-4pm2x
HoustonJuly 41-3pm3x
Los AngelesJuly 311:30am–1:30pm2.7x
New YorkJuly 31:45–3:45pm3.8x
San FranciscoJuly 31:30–2:30pm2.5x
SeattleJuly 4Noon-2pm3x
Washington, DCJuly 710:30am-12:30pm2.4x

A healthy economy tends to slow things down on the nation’s highways. Low unemployment, rising consumer spending and increased disposable incomes all make travel irresistible for many Americans.

“As Independence Day approaches, it’s time for the much-loved family road trip,” says AAA Travel VP Paula Twidale. “This holiday builds on the strong travel demand seen for Memorial Day. Families coast- to-coast are eager to travel.”

Another culprit? Gas prices, which according to AAA, have fallen about 17 cents since Memorial Day, may drop even further in the coming weeks. However, other travel-related prices are rising. Average airfares are up 10% over Independence Day 2018, while car rental rates have jumped 5%. Hotel prices are more expensive as well.

Seattle traffic
Fourth of July holiday traffic snarls can triple drive times for Seattle commuters. (Ceri Breeze)

Top domestic travel destinations include Orlando, Honolulu and Seattle, while Rome, London and Dublin lead the way for overseas hotspots.

Finally, don’t forget to get your car in shape before packing your bags. AAA expects to field nearly 367,000 roadside calls over the Independence Day holiday.