Drivers Should Be Prepared for Heavy Thanksgiving Traffic

Thanksgiving is here, and for many of us, that means overeating, watching football, and leftover turkey sandwiches for weeks. It also means that many of us will be piling in the car and hitting the highway in order to do so. Thanksgiving, and the days surrounding it, are some of the busiest travel days of the year, with millions of Americans traveling to see loved ones.

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Thanksgiving weekend is generally considered to include Wednesday evening, and all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with some resources including Tuesday afternoon as well. According to the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), the number of long distance trips during this time period increases by 54% as compared to the average number of long distance trips the rest of the year. While TV news reports are often focused on long airport security lines and flight delays, USDOT reports that 91% of long distance holiday travel is by vehicle. They also note that the average long distance Thanksgiving trip is 214 miles, with about half of all travelers completing their trip within the same day, and not spending any nights away. Over Thanksgiving weekend, 53% of long distance trips are to visit friends and family, whereas this only accounts for about 24% of long distance trips during the rest of the year.

According to Travel and Leisure, an estimated 41,900,000 people piled into their cars over Thanksgiving weekend in 2015. With that many people on the road, traffic is going to bad. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Saturday after are when the roads are at their worst, but roads are more congested than usual for the whole weekend. Time reports that roads start seeing an increase in traffic at about 1:00 PM on Tuesday, with gridlock setting in from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Heavy traffic returns on Wednesday morning at around 11:00 AM, and stays that way all day, with 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM being the worst of it. When coming home after the holiday, traffic is up to 60% worse on Saturday than it is on Sunday. If you’re able to complete your trip in one day, Thursday is the day to do it. Traffic on Thanksgiving day mimics weekend traffic patterns, meaning if you leave in the morning or evening (avoiding mid-day) you shouldn’t see too much slow down.

Detroiters should be warned that they likely won’t be able to avoid traffic this Thanksgiving, as Northbound US 23 and Northbound I-75 Merge in Detroit rank #9 on ABC News’ list of America’s Top 10 Most Congested Roads. They say that “this stretch of road near Flint, Mich., attracts people fleeing to the beautiful northern Michigan forests for turkey and fun. Cabin owners, resort seekers and deer hunters flock north from Detroit, Indiana, Ohio and even Chicago.”

Unsurprisingly, data giant Google has been collecting information via their Maps app about our Thanksgiving travel habits. Google reports that “ham shop”, “pie shop”, and “liquor shop” are the most searched for terms on Maps on Wednesday, as people do last minute cooking or need to pick up a hostess gift. Likely a result of cooking mishaps in years past, “buffet restaurants” are what’s most searched for the most on Thanksgiving day. On Black Friday, Americans are searching for “electronics store”, “outlet mall”, and “Christmas tree farm” the most. In Detroit, however, the most searched for item on Black Friday is “hamburgers”.

So many people traveling over a certain time period unfortunately means that accidents are going to happen. According to the National Safety Council, there were 391 traffic fatalities during the Thanksgiving period in 2016. This accounted for 12.84% of all traffic deaths during November of 2016. That number is up from 301 deaths over the same time period in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA notes that 50% of the people who died in automobile accidents over Thanksgiving in 2015 were not wearing seat belts. National Safety Council has the following tips for how drivers can be safe and prepared when traveling over the holiday.

thanksgiving traffic

 While following these tips can’t guarantee you won’t be in any accidents this Thanksgiving, it could help reduce the likelihood. Heavy traffic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel over the holiday, but it does mean you should be prepared and know how it will affect your travel plans. Check traffic and weather before you leave, and know that your route will likely take longer than it does on a normal day. Try and stay calm when you’re stuck in traffic, and know that everyone else is likely just as frustrated as you are. And of course, making good choices like wearing a seat belt and not getting behind the wheel while drunk are behaviors that should be practiced year round.


While Thanksgiving leads to hugely heavy traffic, car collisions happen anytime of year. If you or a loved one have been involved in an automobile accident, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free legal consultation.