Edmond Police Sgt. Acey Hopper has some advice for local citizens who may be driving during the long holiday period — don’t drink and drive, wear your seat belt and slow down.
Because the Thanksgiving holiday falls on a Thursday, many are off from work the Friday after, giving travelers the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends. The auto club AAA asked intended travelers which days they would depart for and return from Thanksgiving trips. The majority of travelers plan to leave the Wednesday before the holiday (45 percent) and return the following Sunday (36 percent) with another 25 percent expecting to return on Monday.
Hopper said nationally, in 2010, more than 22,000 passenger vehicle occupants were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and 51 percent were not wearing seat belts at the time of the fatal crashes, Hopper said.
Speeding and alcohol are also deadly. Twenty-eight percent of all Oklahomans killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes were involved in a speeding-related crash, Hopper said. Additionally, 33 percent of Oklahoma’s fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes involved a drunk driver, he said.
“While you may think this nightmare could never happen to you, the fact is that drunk driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States in 2010, and a slightly higher percentage here in Oklahoma,” Hopper said. “So slow down, buckle up and do not drink and drive this holiday season. We will have additional officers assigned to work the holiday travel time. Be safe.”
AAA EXPECTS TRAVEL INCREASE
AAA projects 43.6 million Americans, including 578,500 Oklahomans, will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of .7 percent over the 43.3 million people who traveled nationwide last year and 1 percent more among Oklahomans.
The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined by AAA as Wednesday-Sunday.
“Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” said Edmond resident Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “Since that year we have seen a steady increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers. Americans continue to find ways to stretch family budgets so they can still gather around the holiday table.”
The increase in national travel marks the fourth consecutive year of rising numbers since 2008, when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent, according to AAA. Median spending is expected to drop 10 percent to $498, compared to $554 last year. Americans continue to prioritize travel to make dollars go further.
Average distance traveled will decline to 588 miles from 706 miles, due to a decrease in the number of air travelers and a desire to economize budgets.
Despite mild improvements in unemployment, the housing market and greater consumer optimism, the economy is still struggling to keep its head above water, Mai said.
AAA estimates the national average price of gasoline will drop to between $3.25-3.40 a gallon by the holiday, similar to last year’s average of $3.32, which was the most expensive average ever on Thanksgiving.
Despite the historically high prices paid by motorists this year, the national average has declined by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early October and should continue to drop through the end of the year. The national average price of gas for Thanksgiving from 2007-11 was $2.75 a gallon.
The American Red Cross has travel tips holiday travelers can follow to arrive safely at their destination:
• Make sure the vehicle is in good working order.
• Start out with a full tank of gas, check the tire air pressure and make sure the windshield fluid is full.
• Buckle up, slow down, don’t drive impaired. Designate a driver who won’t drink.
• Be well rested and alert.
• Use caution in work zones.
• Give one’s full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
• Make frequent stops. During long trips, rotate drivers. If the driver is tired, stop and get some rest.
• Be respectful of other motorists and follow the rules of the road.
• Don’t follow another vehicle too closely.
• If car trouble develops, pull off the road as far as possible.
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