Caution! Heavy traffic ahead!

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It’s a positive sign for the travel industry that so many Americans are planning to travel this holiday season, collectively contributing to the second-highest year-end holiday travel volume in the past ten years.” –Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services, referring to the organization’s prediction that 91.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the 2011-2012 holiday season

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There are of course two ways to view AAA’s travel forecast for the 2011-2012 holiday season – which the group says runs from Friday, December 23, 2011, to Monday, January 2, 2012.

One is reflected in Bill Sutherland’s quote above; the other can be gauged from the collective groan truckers from coast to coast will emit upon hearing that 91.9 million Americans are predicted to travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday season – a 1.4% increase over the 90.7 million people who traveled during this time period one year ago.

AAA noted, by the way, that this year's predicted holiday travel volume is the second highest in the past decade and represents 30% of the total U.S. population. And if those statistics don’t make truck drivers cringe, I don’t know what will, for as we all know a lot of freight still needs to be moved during the holidays and so truckers will need to wade through all that holiday time travel to deliver it.

[Of course, there are a lot of efforts underway to try and reduce the inordinate amounts of vehicular traffic on the globe’s roadways. The city of Stockholm in Sweden, for example, implemented centralized “smart toll” system a few years back with the help of IBM that’s reportedly reduced traffic congestion by 22%. You can see what you think of it below.]

Indeed, AAA expects some 83.6 million people or 91% of all those holiday travelers to drive to their destinations this year – a 2.1% increase compared to the 2010-2011 year-end holiday season when the number of auto travelers totaled 81.9 million.

[FYI: AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting conducted by Boston-based economic research and consulting firm IHS Global Insight. For the full report, click here.]

Again, these numbers are setting records, with this season's projected automobile travel volume pegged to be the second highest in the past decade and only 100,000 less than the 2006-2007 auto travel peak of 83.7 million.

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Automobile travel remains the preferred choice of transportation for travel during the holiday season time, the group added, meaning 27% of the total U.S. population will be clogging up the roadways. (Feel free to make any exasperated noise at this point if you like … it’ll help relieve the tension ... I hope …)

Of course, it’s no coincidence that at the same time reports are piling up about the heavy volumes of roadway traffic expected for the holidays, a new push is underway to reduce the occurrence of “distracted driving” behavior behind the wheel.

Most notably on this front, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation just this week calling for a complete ban on non-emergency cell phone use while operating any vehicle – building off a similar ban just put in place for commercial vehicle and bus drivers.

Indeed, recent research conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute determined that a driver's reaction time is doubled when distracted by reading or sending text messages via cell phones – a level of impairment far greater than many experts initially thought.

And let’s also not forget that the congestion we’re experiencing on the roadways is now being replicated in parking lots, too. You can read an illustrative story on that subject from the Wall Street Journal by clicking here.

At the end of the day, though, all of this information can be boiled down to some simple points: be extra patient on the roads this holiday season; pay attention while driving; and above all, remember that arriving safe and sound at your destination is by far the most important goal of the journey.

Stay safe out there!

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