By Adam Smith
If AAA’s projections hold true, more people will be hitting the highways and taking to the air this Thanksgiving season.
The group’s forecast, released last week, predicts 43.6 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday, up just 0.7 percent from last year.
Not only will more Americans travel nationwide, but the combination of the holiday, Black Friday sales and the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa will put more Alabamians on the road, too.
“It’s going to be pretty treacherous,” said AAA Alabama spokesman Clay Ingram. “We’ve seen an increase each year over the last four years since it dipped in 2008.”
Ingram said AAA expects today to be the busiest travel day, with Sunday running “a close second.”
He advised motorists pad their travel time by at least one hour to “save yourself a little road rage” while traveling this week. If a trip takes four hours, he said, plan for five.
He also said drivers should do what they can to reduce distractions in the car, which includes keeping kids in the backseat occupied.
“Let the person in the passenger seat handle all the administrative duties so the driver can keep his or her attention on the road,” he said. “Your margin of error will be smaller and reaction time will be less.”
Ingram also advised that drivers have their cars checked out by a certified mechanic. Belts and hoses can deteriorate from the inside out and could leave a driver on the road. He also urged drivers to check tire pressure, not just for safety reasons, but also because it can improve fuel mileage.
Lower gas prices may be one reason why families will be hitting the open road this Thanksgiving. Senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan of the gas price monitoring site GasBuddy.com is estimating that the national average will sit at $3.43 per gallon on Thanksgiving, some 10 cents higher than it was in 2011.
Gas prices in Athens varied sharply Tuesday, with the cheapest being $3.14 per gallon at Abby’s Mini Mart at the corner of Nick Davis and Nabors roads. Fuel-Z on U.S. 72 near Cox Road was charging $3.39 per gallon.
“Overall, we believe more Americans will be hitting the road for this Thanksgiving Day compared to last year,” said Gregg Laskoski, an analyst with GasBuddy.com. “Gasoline prices have come down over the last month, dramatically in some states, leading motorists to feel better about things — including driving the car to get to their destinations.”
On the road
Additional traffic during the remainder of the week will require law-enforcement agencies to step up patrols. Capt. Trevor Harris with the Athens Police Department said no roadblocks are planned, but officers will be on the lookout for impaired drivers.
“We’ll be hyper vigilant from Wednesday through the weekend,” he said. “It will be a busy time for us.”
The Alabama Department of Transportation is also urging motorists to drive carefully over the next several days. ALDOT has no interstate lane closures planned after noon today through midnight on Sunday.