AAA predicts strong start to U.S. summer driving season

Fri May 8, 2015 1:04pm EDT
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By Jarrett Renshaw

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More U.S. drivers will hit the roads this Memorial Day holiday than in the past decade, fueled by a growing economy and low gasoline prices, the nation's largest motorists' advocacy group said in a forecast released on Friday.

AAA projected 37.2 million people would journey 50 miles (80 km) or more from home during the May 21-25 period, a 4.7 percent jump from the 35.5 million who traveled for the holiday weekend last year and the most Memorial Day-related traffic since 2005.

The projected growth rate is the highest for any of the holidays tracked by AAA since the July 4 holiday in 2012.

"A strong employment market and low gas prices have driven consumer optimism to new highs and boosted Americans' disposable income. This is welcome news for the travel industry," AAA President Marshall L. Doney said in a press release.

The current national average price of gas is $2.66 a gallon, $1 less than the average price on Memorial Day last year.

AAA's forecast was released the same day as the U.S. Labor Department's employment report for April, which showed an unexpectedly strong gain of 223,000 jobs and a drop in the unemployment rate to 5.4 percent.

The growing economy coupled with the sharp drop in gasoline prices led to a surge in U.S. motor travel at the end of last year and into 2015, AAA said.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Paul Simao)