Vacationers, Start Your Engines

Bumper-to-bumper traffic clogs northbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway in Cape May County, N.J, as people head home from the holiday weekend, July 7, 2002. There are various reasons that shore traffic is heavier than ever.
AP
Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually the busiest travel periods of the year, but not this year.

The American Automobile Association says the Fourth of July weekend could see more Americans traveling than ever before. It estimates more than 40 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles from home over the long weekend — the first time a holiday weekend other than Christmas or Thanksgiving has hit that level.

While bus, rail and air terminals are expected to be busy, the vast majority will be heading out on the highway to visit family and friends or to hit the beaches. Florida's theme parks are also expected huge crowds, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter King.

And the travel service says higher gasoline prices won't be keeping Americans home.

"These are the highest gas prices we've ever seen coming through a summer holiday, 30 cents higher than a year ago, 70 cents higher than the $1.50 gas two years ago," AAA's Justin McNaull told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.

Travel groups say motorists can expect bottlenecks in popular areas as the summer travel season hits high gear (see sidebar).

McNaull suggests avoiding the busiest travel periods.

"Friday afternoon, Friday evening for most destinations, that really is the peak time," he said. "Look at whatever information you can get to avoid traffic."

The AAA web site now notes areas that are prone to congestion in its Internet trip planning, and McNaull says other transportation sites, such as those of state transportation departments, "now have realtime traffic information. So that last thing you do before the leave the house, see how the traffic looks."

Technology's help for traffic doesn't end there.

"When you're on the road itself, about half of the states now have 511 services where the passenger, not the driver, the passenger can use a cell phone and check in on traffic information," McNaull said.