Though COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, travel still projected lower over Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day travel is expected to be down substantially this weekend because of lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Gas prices are up about 15 cents a gallon this week in Topeka as motorists prepare for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

According to GasBuddy.com, prices for unleaded fuel on Friday morning ranged from $1.54 to $1.75 a gallon.

AAA says the average price in Shawnee County on Friday morning is $1.69 a gallon.

The average price per gallon in Kansas is $1.66.7, AAA says, which is 27.7 cents below the national average of $1.94.2.

AAA projects "far fewer people traveling" this holiday weekend compared to years past, not so much because of the gas prices -- they are still nearly a dollar a gallon below what they were a year ago, when 43 million Americans took to the highways over Memorial Day, the second-highest total on record.

Rather, AAA says the drop in travel is the result of uncertain economic factors surrounding the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic. To that end, AAA isn't issuing a forecast for the number of Memorial Day travelers for the first time in 20 years.

Still, some experts late this week are saying with stay-at-home orders being relaxed in all 50 states, more people actually may be taking road trips, though they may be of the shorter variety.

On Thursday, AutoInsurance.org said the Memorial Day holiday is the second-deadliest for motorists in the United States.

From 2016 to 2018, there were 1,344 fatal crashes over the Memorial Day holiday in the United States, making for an average of 448 fatality crashes per year.

Only the Independence Day holiday, with 1,349 crashes from 2016 to 2018 -- or an average of 449.67 per year -- ranked ahead of Memorial Day.

AutoInsurance.org attributes the large number of holiday-related fatal crashes to more vehicles being on the road and "a sizable increase in drunk driving incidents."

The number of fatal crashes nationwide has been down substantially since COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began in mid-March.

According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, there have been 135 fatalities on the state's roadways through May 13, which is up 0.7 percent over the same period a year ago.