Here are the need-to-know driving trends for Thanksgiving and Christmas

If you're planning to travel this holiday season, check out our driving insights that can help you and your family travel smarter and safer.

While the holidays are known as the happiest time of the year, it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year with traveling being a top contributor to the “holiday blues.” Whether you’re driving to a different state, city, or county, it can be a hassle to pack up, load the car, onboard your family, and pick a hopefully safe, low-traffic route.

To help ease the stress, Arity’s data analytics team delved into our U.S. driving dataset, which leverages more than 200 million connections to U.S. drivers. They looked at driving insights from 2019 – 2021 to uncover need-to-know trends for your Thanksgiving and Christmas trips. Here’s what they found:

Holiday travel trends

To uncover the past three years’ travel trends, we took a look at the two-week periods surrounding both holidays and found:

People are driving more overall, surpassing pre-pandemic levels

Before the pandemic, people drove an average of 30.7 minutes on Thanksgiving Day which dropped to 22.8 minutes in 2020. Then, last year, we saw that average increase to 35.8 minutes. We see a similar pattern in our Christmas data. The average time spent driving decreased in 2020, only to jump back up and surpass 2019’s average in 2021.

When we look at our entire dataset, we see that the total miles driven this year is outpacing miles driven in 2019. So, as we move into this year’s holiday season, we can expect to see that trend continue with more people on the road than we’ve seen the past few years.

After the holidays, drivers are speeding to get back home

  • For both Thanksgiving and Christmas, our data shows that speeding – defined here as driving over 80 mph – increases after the holiday, most likely while people are on their way home from their trips.
  • For Thanksgiving, the Sunday after the holiday sees the most speeding events. Last year, we saw an average of 81.47 speeding events per 1,000 miles the Sunday after Thanksgiving while we only saw about 47.01 speeding events per 1,000 miles a week earlier. That jump resulted in a 22 million increase in speeding events overall – in just one week.
  • For Christmas, speeding events spiked when the holiday was followed by a weekend. In 2019, Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday and the number of speeding events over the next week fell lower than what we saw on the actual holiday.
  • In 2020, we saw an average of 82.66 speeding events per 1,000 miles driven on Christmas Day, which fell on a Friday that year. The next day, Saturday, the average increased to 96.85 and on Sunday, that had increased to 99.69. This means, in the three-day period, the number of speeding events increased by more than 24 million before falling back to “normal” levels.
  • Last year, Christmas fell on a Saturday, and we saw an average of 81.99 speeding events per 1,000 miles driven. The next day, Sunday, the average increased to 98.14 – a 37 million increase in one day – before dropping for the weekdays.

Thanksgiving travel trends

Drivers are traveling on Thanksgiving Day and through the following weekend

  • When we take a look at the two-week period surrounding Thanksgiving, we see that drivers are traveling further distances on Thanksgiving Day and through the weekend after. Last year, the average trip distance was 15.8 miles on Thanksgiving Day. For comparison, the average was 10.8 miles just one week prior.
  • When we look at the year-over-year trends, we see that the average trip distance drops on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day – but then rises back up and remains high through the weekend.

The number of crashes increase on Thanksgiving Day

  • Based on past data, we know the number of crashes consistently increases on Thanksgiving Day which is likely correlated to the increase in people driving. The rate of collisions (i.e., the number of crashes per 10,000 miles driven) is actually lower. This means that even though people are driving more, they seem to be driving safer than “normal.”
  • It’s also important to note that, unfortunately, the number of crashes on Thanksgiving Day has also risen slightly each year, going from an average of 6.5 detected crashes per 10,000 miles driven in 2019 to 7.10 in 2021.

Christmas travel trends

Drivers are traveling on Christmas Day

Similar to Thanksgiving trends, we see that people are driving further distances on Christmas Day. We can also see that people seem to be traveling less distance-wise on Christmas Eve, jumping from an average of 11.7 miles per trip on the 24th to 15.2 miles on the 25th.

After Christmas Day, crash levels remained heightened

When looking at the data, we see that the number of crashes typically increases on Christmas Day and remains higher than normal the following week. Similar to Thanksgiving Day, this is likely correlated to the increased volume of people on the road. In 2021, Arity detected 477,787 crashes on Christmas Day.

Arity’s data-based travel tips

As a mobility data and analytics company, it’s our mission to turn raw data into predictive insights that help make transportation smarter, safer, and more useful for everyone. Based on our recent analysis of the past three years’ travel trends, here are our recommendations for your upcoming holiday trips:

Plan ahead to avoid traffic

Since people are driving more, even surpassing 2019 levels, you may want to plan ahead and avoid driving on common travel days. For Thanksgiving, that’s Thanksgiving Day and through the following weekend. For Christmas, that’s Christmas Day.

Avoid travel during higher crash levels, if possible

Not only do we see a trend of higher levels of travel on these holidays, we also see an increased number of crashes. We recommend avoiding travel on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, or if it’s inevitable, stay extra attentive and aware while you’re on the road.

Be extra cautious of post-holiday speeders

When you’re traveling back home after the holidays, be cautious of the heightened speeding levels and, as always, remain aware of other drivers while you’re on the road. Remember, we’ve seen a trend of higher speeding levels the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

About Arity’s source data

Arity’s multi-source dataset with more than 45 million active connections includes anonymized and aggregated driving behavior data collected through consumer mobile apps, insurance telematics, and on-board device (OBD) programs.

Because the data is from multiple insurance and non-insurance sources and is not solely reflective of any Arity affiliate companies or any other particular industry or source, we really get a sense of how people are moving, where they are going, when, and how. Arity is connected to millions of U.S. drivers, so we have a credible representation in every state and demographic (e.g., families, single vehicles, rural, cities).

Keep in mind that although a majority of the trips Arity collects are personal trips, we have the capability to decipher between personal trips, gig driving, and non-driving impacts.

Because Arity collects various driving behaviors within a trip, we also can evaluate trends such as speeding, braking, acceleration, phone handling, and the time of day someone drives. For example, fueled by the largest telematics dataset tied to claims, we can more accurately predict dangerous driving behavior that we described in this report.

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Arity is a mobility data and analytics company. We provide data-driven solutions to companies invested in transportation, enabling them to deliver mobility services that are smarter, safer, and more economical.