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Holiday travelers should expect busy roadways
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Infographic courtesy AAA
Millions of Americans are expected to travel this Memorial Day Weekend and most of them are expected to take a road trip. Safe driving tips can help make sure you get to enjoy your time with family and friends.
If you plan to join the more than 2 million Floridians traveling this Memorial Day, you might want to leave early, if you can, to get ahead of the traffic. AAA expects the number of Floridians traveling from May 25-29 to be the highest in 12 years.

Nationwide, AAA is predicting holiday travel will be at the highest level since 2005 with more than 39.3 million Americans planning to take a trip.

“The expected spike in Memorial Day travel mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Vicky Evans, assistant vice president, Travel Sales Development, AAA - The Auto Club Group. “So far in 2017, travel bookings with AAA in Florida are up 17 percent, compared to the same period last year. Higher confidence, rising wages, and recent gas price declines have bolstered consumer spending, leaving many Americans with more money to spend on travel this Memorial Day.”

This is the third year in a row that more Americans have traveled over the Memorial Day weekend with this year’s projections at 2.7 percent more than last year, AAA says. The majority, 34.8 million, or 88 percent, will drive, a 2.5 percent increase over 2016. Another 2.9 million are expected to fly, a 5.5 percent increase. An additional 1.75 million will find other means of getting where they going, including cruises, trains and buses.

Those who plan to drive will be paying only slightly more for gasoline than they did last year, if prices hold steady through the holiday weekend. Pump prices have been falling for about three weeks but analyst are unsure if that trend will continue.

"Motorists have enjoyed an unusual downward trend in gas prices for this time of year, thanks to record-high refinery activity and sluggish demand," said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA - The Auto Club Group. "Unfortunately, gas prices appear to be leveling off as demand begins to grow, and crude inventories dropped last week.”

Still, Jenkins doesn’t believe prices will change enough to change holiday travel plans.

As of May 22, the national average was for a gallon of unleaded was $2.36, 8 cents more than the same date last year, according to AAA. The average price in Florida was $2.30, 9 cents more than in 2016. In the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, prices were average $2.23, 11 cents more than last year.

While the price for a road trip will remain comparable to last year, if you drive your own vehicle, those who plan to rent a car will need to up their budgets. AAA says that daily car rental rates will average $66, which is 7 percent more than last year.

Air travel also is going to cost more. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes will be 9 percent higher this Memorial Day, with an average round trip ticket coming in at about $181. And unless you plan to stay with family and friends, expect to have higher hotel costs.

Law enforcement is gearing up to make sure people get to their destinations safely. The Florida Highway Patrol and law enforcement across the state will be participating in the national enforcement campaign, “Click it or Ticket,” to encourage the use of seat belts.

Since 2009, state law has required that all drivers, all front seat passengers and all passengers under the age of 18 to fasten their safety belts. The reason is simple, wearing a seat belt reduces your risk of being injured or killed in a crash by about 50 percent.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly half the 22,441 passengers killed in vehicular crashes in 2015 were not wearing their seat belt. Fatalities of persons not wearing seat belts increased to 57 percent during the hours of 6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.

Pinellas Park police will be participating in Click it of Ticket with patrols ongoing day and night.

“In 2015, we lost 12 community members because they did not buckle their seat belts,” said Pinellas Park Chief of Police Michael Haworth.

Almost twice as many males die in crashes as compared to females, he said. Of the males killed in crashes in 2015, 52 percent were unrestrained. Only 42 percent of the females who died in crashes were not wearing a seat belt.

The American Safety Council also advocates the use of seat belts and offers more tips to help you stay safe. Tips include:

• Designating an alcohol and drug-free driver or arranging alternate transportation.

• Getting plenty of sleep and taking regular breaks to avoid fatigue on long trips.

• Don’t use your cell phone, even hands-free.

The American Red Cross has a longer list, which includes:

• Use caution in work zones.

• Don’t follow other vehicles too closely.

• Clean your vehicle’s lights and windows to help you see, especially at night.

• Turn your headlights on as dusk approaches, or during inclement weather.

• Don’t let your vehicle’s gas tank get too low. If you have car trouble, pull as far as possible off the highway.

• Carry a disaster supplies kit in your trunk.

• Let someone know where you are going, your route and when you expect to get there. If you have problems, help can be sent along your predetermined route.

"As Americans gear up for the most carefree months of the year, we cannot take our safety for granted," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NSC president and CEO. "Driving is one of the riskiest things we do every day. Engaging our defensive driving skills and staying alert can mean the difference between attending cookouts and family parties or spending the evening at the emergency room or worse."

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County Editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.
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