Avoid Thanksgiving traffic with new data from Google Maps

Avoid Thanksgiving traffic with new data from Google Maps
Traffic jam, when you’re already late. Carolyn Kaster/AP
Traffic jam, when you’re already late. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Driving somewhere this Thanksgiving? You’ll be in good company.

In 2016, The American Automobile Association projected nearly 49 million Americans would hit the road for a trip of 50 miles or more for the Thanksgiving long weekend. While it’s wonderful that so many gather with loved ones at the end of November, extra cars on the road means extra traffic, and possibly one less serving of Aunt Sue’s famous pecan pie, because she’s mad that you’re late.

This year, avoid getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper hell by studying Thanksgiving traffic trends and data from Google Maps. You can check trends for your specific city, but also keep some broader guidelines in mind.

The “Mapping Thanksgiving” tool allows users to customize their search based on where they’re coming from and where they’re going.
The “Mapping Thanksgiving” tool allows users to customize their search based on where they’re coming from and where they’re going. Mapping Thanksgiving/Google Maps

Google was able to make the following traffic predictions by analyzing “the total number of cars on the road at a given time, as determined by the speed and location of Android phones that have location services enabled,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. Not all drivers use an Android, but those who do provided Google with a significant sample size.

If you’re not driving hundreds of miles, you’ll want to start your trip early on Thursday, rather than the day before. According to Google’s national data, Wednesday afternoon is when the roads will be at peak congestion. If you are up for a nighttime drive, Google found that in many cities, the least amount of traffic occurs between 9 p.m. Wednesday night and 4 a.m. Thursday morning. Just be sure whoever is driving is well-rested and well-caffeinated.

Traffic data from Google Maps’ “Mapping Thanksgiving” data
Traffic data from Google Maps’ “Mapping Thanksgiving” data Mapping Thanksgiving/Google Maps

Google’s data shows that its best to give yourself a day to recover from that food coma before returning home: Friday is the worst day to make the trip back, and Saturday afternoon can be equally hectic. Instead, aim for an early morning return trip on Saturday or Sunday.

The only way to guarantee you’ll escape holiday traffic, of course, is to stay home. Maybe that’s reason enough to offer to host this year?