Graphic: AAA Travel

Graphic: AAA Travel

More than 46 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with most of them taking to the highways, according to a forecast from AAA Travel.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 26 through Sunday, Nov. 30.

Thanksgiving holiday travel volume is expected to reach the highest level since 2007, with 46.3 million Americans taking a trip. The forecast is 4.2% higher than the 44.4 million Americans who traveled last year and the greatest growth rate for any holiday since Independence Day 2012, according to AAA.

More than 89% of travelers, 41.3 million, will travel by automobile, a 4.3% increase from 39.6 million last year.

Air travel for Thanksgiving is expected to be at the highest level since 2007, with 3.55 million Americans taking to the skies.

The average distance traveled this Thanksgiving will be 549 miles roundtrip and Americans will spend an average of $573 during the holiday weekend.

“Americans are more optimistic about the future as improvements in several key economic factors, including employment, gross domestic product and disposable income, are boosting consumer confidence and the desire to travel,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA president and chief operating officer. “Holiday joy has come early this year with Americans likely to pay the lowest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2009. Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to carve out more money from household budgets for travel this Thanksgiving.”

The national price of gasoline has fallen below $3.00 per gallon for the first time since Dec. 22, 2010. AAA predicts most U.S. travelers likely will pay the cheapest Thanksgiving gas prices in five years.

Meantime, a separate prediction by the National Safety Council estimates 418 traffic fatalities and another 44,700 injuries requiring medical attention may occur from car crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

During the 2012 Thanksgiving holiday, the most recent year figures are available, there were 405 traffic fatalities, up from the previous year’s level of 375, but much less than then level of 542 that happened in 2007

It is estimated that 153 lives will be saved Thanksgiving weekend because of people wearing their safety belts.