Heavy traffic numbers expected for holiday travel

AAA predicts lower gas prices
Dec 18, 2013

CHARLOTTE — A record number of North Carolinians, about 2.8 million, will travel 50 miles or more for the Christmas/New Year's holiday, according to AAA Carolinas.

Travel volume represents an increase of 48,500 total travelers compared to last year. An estimated 2,559,700, or 90.5 percent of total travelers, plan to drive to their destination.

The 12-day Christmas/New Year's travel holiday is defined as Saturday, Dec. 21, through Wednesday, Jan. 1, which is one day longer than the travel period last year. The year-end holiday ranges from 10 to 13 days, and volume often increases relative to length.

"As the longest holiday travel period of the year, the Christmas/New Year's holiday is also one of the deadliest," said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "Drivers should buckle up and avoid drinking and driving, speeding and texting behind the wheel."

Last year, 37 people died on North Carolina roads during the year-end holiday travel period — 38 percent of those involved a drunk driver and 43 percent of those who died weren't wearing a seat belt.

North Carolina gas prices currently average $3.23 — the same price as a year ago. After falling to a year-low of $3.19 on Nov. 14, prices rose to $3.33 on Nov. 27, but have fallen steadily since then. Prices are expected to continue the downward trend through the end of the year due to rising supplies and increased refinery production.

Motorists can find the cheapest gasoline in North Carolina in High Point at $3.18 a gallon and the most expensive gas in Boone at $3.30. Drivers will enjoy lower prices in South Carolina at $3.07, Tennessee at $3.06, Virginia at $3.15 and Georgia at $3.17.

An estimated 155,200 North Carolinians will fly to their destinations, accounting for 5.5 percent of travelers, and 111,600 or 4 percent will use another mode of transportation, such as train, bus or boat.

Airfares are down 3 percent from a year ago, averaging $199 for the top 40 U.S. routes. However, travelers will see higher car rental rates, up 13 percent to $63 per day compared to $55 per day last year.

Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels average $138, down 3 percent from last year, while AAA Two Diamond hotels average $102, up 1 percent from a year ago.

North Carolina travelers are expected to log an average trip of 965 miles from home, a significant increase from 765 miles last year.

Drunk driving is always a major problem during this travel period with holiday parties often held between Christmas and New Year's. Drivers are advised to secure a designated driver or call a cab if they are planning to consume alcohol.

North Carolina's "Booze It & Lose It" campaign, which runs Dec. 13 through Jan. 5, includes checkpoints and stepped-up patrols to remove impaired drivers from North Carolina roads.

After 11 months, traffic fatalities are trending sharply downward this year in both North and South Carolina, as well as nationally.

As of Dec. 1, North Carolina saw a 7.8 percent drop year-to-date from 1,227 traffic deaths to 1,115, including a decline of 118 alcohol-involved traffic deaths. During the same 11 months, South Carolina's fatal crashes declined 11.9 percent from 787 to 695, and alcohol-related fatalities dropped more than 35 percent.

Traffic safety officials in both states credit the drop to more intense patrolling of high-crash corridors; checkpoints and crackdowns on drunk drivers, unbuckled drivers and passengers; stricter speed-limit enforcement; and a decline in vehicle miles traveled.

During the holiday period, unexpected weather or vehicle problems may leave motorists stranded this holiday season and inclement weather is possible. AAA Carolinas recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car that includes:

  • Mobile phone and car charger
  • Blankets and flashlight with extra batteries
  • A first aid kit
  • Drinking water and non-perishable snacks
  • Small shovel and sack of sand or cat litter for traction
  • Windshield scraper
  • Battery booster cables
  • Plastic emergency triangle reflectors

North Carolina suspends most construction projects during the holiday travel period, with these exceptions:

  • U.S. 158 on Elizabeth Street in downtown Elizabeth City will remain in its two lane, two-way configuration through the holiday.
  • The U.S. 158 Westbound Wright Memorial Bridge over the Currituck Sound is closed for deck repair. All traffic is in a two-lane, two-way pattern on the eastbound bridge and will remain in this pattern until May 2014.
  • U.S. 13, just north of Windsor, is closed with a local detour route. The detour adds five minutes of travel time.
  • I-440, in Wake County, between the I-40/I-440 split and US 64/264 will be reduced from six lanes to four lanes by Dec. 20.
  • I-73 in Guilford County is reduced to two lanes in each direction between I-40 and I-85 for a new interchange with High Point Road.

For the latest on construction delays, up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to special events, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, www.ncdot.org, and click on Travel & Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System.

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