Lower gas prices fuel more holiday travel

Nov. 20, 2012 @ 04:33 PM

Most North Carolinians will travel at least a small distance to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, so a little preparation can keep you safe.

Lower gas prices means more people will travel by car this year, PR Manager for AAA Carolinas Angela Daley said.

"People are staying to home and not driving as far, but more people will drive instead of fly this year," Daley said.

Busy roads means Thanksgiving can be a dangerous holiday. Most of the 1.2 million holiday travelers, about 45 percent, will leave home on Wednesday. The rest depart early Thursday, she said.

The basics of safe driving are especially important in these conditions. Travel at the speed limit as weather permits. Allow enough space between your car and other vehicles and signal when turning or changing lanes. Turn headlights on in rain and avoid distractions like cell phones while behind the wheel.

Plan for delays.

"We're telling people that because of the congestion, their trip might take longer than expected," Daley said. "Where you're used to arriving at 10 p.m., it might be later before they get to their destination."

Roads will also be heavily congested on Sunday as many travelers make their way home again, Daley said. She advises drivers get plenty of rest and not drive when tired.

"Sleepy driving or trying to drive through the night can be just as dangerous as driving drunk," she said.

Alcohol can also pose a threat to motorists. If you have wine or something stronger with Thanksgiving dinner, wait until it is certain you are safe to drive again. Because many people will be celebrating with friends and family and have time off from work this week, it can be a temptation to have a little too much to drink.

The state's average gas prices are fairly low this season, prompting more people to travel by car. But Daley waned that not every state can boast N.C.'s $3.31 per gallon average. Prices up north and in heavily populated areas will be much higher.

Since the average driver will travel an average of 588 miles round trip, Daley recommended topping up engine fluids, pumping up tires and performing basic maintenance.

"If you're traveling a long way on Thanksgiving, you don't want to be stuck somewhere," she said.

Most roadwork will stop for the holiday, but a few projects will continue and probably create delays. Those are:

•    N.C. 12 from the Bonner Bridge to Rodanthe in Dare County - closures due to weather

•    U.S. 17 Business in Jacksonville in Onslow County - reduced to two lanes

•    U.S. 74/76 in Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover County on the Wrightsville Draw Bridge is reduced to one lane in each direction.

•    U.S. 421 in Carolina Beach in New Hanover County

•    I-73 in Greensboro in Guilford County - reduced to three lanes in each direction from two miles south of Wendover Avenue to one mile north of I-85.