The Worst Times for Drivers to Leave Town on Labor Day Weekend

Traffic crawls on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (I-278), July 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Officials from the American Automobile Association (AAA) are predicting 44 million people will travel by roads, airports, buses, and train this holiday weekend. Gas prices for the July 4th weekend are the lowest they've been in 11 years.
New York holiday weekend traffic | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If you’re making a list of the unavoidable, you might as well chalk up “holiday traffic” right alongside death and taxes. There’s simply no way you can escape gridlock as you make your way out of town, especially on summer holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend.

Actually, in the largest U.S. cities, it doesn’t take a holiday to experience the pain of traffic. A June 2018 report from safe-driving app Drivemode showed drivers averaging a one-hour commute (one-way) in places like New York and Los Angeles.

If you break it down by minute, it took 3.08 minutes for drivers to cover a mile in their cars during rush-hour. Obviously, that sounds bad, but look what happens on holiday weekends: The time you need to travel a mile more than doubles at the worst times.

A Drivemode study released August 26 could help you avoid some of that gridlock. Using GPS data to see which times were the worst to leave during summer 2018 holidays, researchers pinpointed the 10 absolute worst hours to kick off your Labor Day weekend — and most come on Thursday. Here are the last times you want to start driving in major cities this holiday.

10. Seattle

  • Friday at 5 p.m.

In the case of Seattle, area drivers simply have to avoid leaving on the most obvious time: Friday evening rush-hour. A typical commute at this time would force you to spend 2.59 minutes to drive one mile in your car. On this weekend, you’ll spend about double that (4.97 minutes per mile) if you leave Friday after work.

9. San Francisco

  • Thursday at 4 p.m.

Getting out of town early doesn’t always work. That’s obvious when it comes to San Francisco holiday traffic. Here, you actually do yourself a favor by waiting until Friday to leave town. The worst possible time for a getaway comes on Thursday at 4.

8. Dallas

  • Friday at 10 p.m.

According to Drivemode data, Dallas drivers might overthink the Labor Day weekend getaway. Compared to every other time folks might leave town, Friday night at 10 o’clock turned out to be the worst hour. You’ll spend about 5.73 minutes to travel around this time. It’s might be best to sleep it off and wait for Saturday.

7. Atlanta

  • Friday at 9 p.m.

Atlanta traffic patterns also show late travel times backfiring on people. In this case, drivers hoping to arrive late Friday night will find themselves in snarling traffic. The worst time to get on your way is 9 p.m. It will take you 5.83 minutes to travel a mile at this hour.

6. Houston

  • Thursday at 9 p.m.

A Thursday night getaway is the wrong approach for Houston residents. Compared to any other time in this 48-hour period, the delay (5.85 minutes per mile) proves the worst. An early exit Friday morning might be the way to go here.

5. Los Angeles

Shot of the 110 freeway on February 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
There is no escaping L.A. traffic, but you’ll find it at its worst on the Thursday before the holiday. | Getty Images
  • Thursday at 12 noon

With some of the worst traffic in America, you might think it doesn’t matter when you leave for a holiday in Los Angeles. Yet Drivemode data suggests it can get worse than you imagine. Compared to the average, torturous three-minute-per-mile commute during the typical L.A. rush-hour, heading off for Labor Day weekend early (Thursday at noon) could force you to spend 5.89 minutes per mile.

4. Miami

  • Thursday at 11 a.m.

Miami residents also try to get a head-start on their holiday weekends only to see it backfire. Here, the worst possible time to leave came around Thursday at 11 a.m. on earlier holiday weekends in 2018. In other words, you should probably have lunch before taking off or you could be enduring six-minute miles in your car.

3. Riverside, California

  • Thursday at 3 p.m.

There’s lots of traffic going both ways in Riverside, and the situation comes close to a standstill (6.52 minutes per mile) on Thursday afternoon at 3. That’s about three times the normal commute time at rush-hour here (2.23 minutes per mile). But it’ll probably feel longer than that.

2. Boston

  • Thursday at 5 p.m.

In Boston, there is little chance of avoiding traffic ahead of a holiday weekend. That’s probably why so many people choose to leave on Thursday evening (5 p.m.). However, you are probably better off staying the night and leaving early Friday. The alternative is spending 7.04 minutes per mile getting out of town.

1. New York

  • Friday at noon

New Yorkers might think they are getting the jump on holiday traffic by leaving early on Friday afternoon (around 12 p.m.). However, they’re really just setting themselves up for misery. Over other holiday weekends, data showed drivers spending 7.07 minutes per mile in traffic at this time. Either get out of town or early Friday morning or expect to catch up on your texts while you sit in traffic.