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Pinellas celebrates first holiday of summer
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AAA Travel projects more than 36 million will take trips beyond 50 miles – 1.5 percent more than last year - from May 22 through May 26, the official Memorial Day holiday travel period. Floridians are expected to account for 1.8 million of those travelers.
Boaters are expected to be out in force to take advantage of a holiday forecast filled with sunshine and warm temperatures. Life jackets are must-haves for everyone onboard.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer holiday season with a much-anticipated three-day weekend, running May 24-26 this year.

Millions of Americans are planning holiday trips. AAA Travel projects more than 36 million will take trips beyond 50 miles – 1.5 percent more than last year - from May 22 through May 26, the official Memorial Day holiday travel period. Floridians are expected to account for 1.8 million of those travelers.

“A long and unusually harsh winter gave many Americans the travel bug,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Combine rising temperatures with signs of an improving economy, and travel for the holiday should hit a new post-recession high.”

AAA’s 2014 forecast is 2.6 percent higher than the 10-year historical average and the second highest travel volume since 2000. The year 2005 was the highest.

According to a recent AAA Consumer Pulse survey, 88 percent of travelers, or 31.8 million, will travel by automobile, an increase from 31.4 million last year. Holiday air travel is expected to increase by 2.4 percent to 2.6 million leisure travelers. Travel by other modes of transportation including cruise, trains and buses will see the largest increase, up 6.5 percent.

Improvements in several key economic factors are driving the expectation for more holiday travelers this year, according to a news release from AAA.

“Consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up which is welcomed news for the travel industry,” Jenkins said.

Travelers will encounter slightly higher prices with airfares 6 percent higher, mid-range hotels up 2 percent and car rentals costing 1 percent more. The good news is that gas prices will be the same or slightly lower than 2013.

The average price of a gallon of unleaded was $3.63 on Memorial Day last year. As of Sunday, May 18, the average price was $3.65 about 3 cents more than the same day in 2013, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report. Floridians were paying $3.64 about 17 cents more. Motorists in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area were paying $3.55 – 9 cents less than the state average and 17 cents more than they paid at the pump May 17, 2013.

"With many plans already made and budgets set, it is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago," Jenkins said.

Safety first

Local law enforcement will be on the roads working to keep everyone safe this holiday weekend. Florida Highway Patrol typically suspends office duties to place as many troopers on the road as possible to ensure the safety of all motorists. Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies and municipal police departments also will be out on local roads encouraging motorists to obey the laws and to not drink and drive.

The National Highway Traffic Safety’s annual Click it or Ticket campaign, which began May 19 and continues through June 1, is designed to encompass the holiday period.

“Seat belts are the most effective safety feature ever invented and have helped save thousands of lives,” according to an NHTSA website promoting the use of seatbelts. “Sadly, one in five Americans fail to regularly wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle.”

Local law enforcement also will be out on the area’s waterways this weekend. With area meteorologists predicting sunny skies, boaters are expected to be out in force. Those venturing out can expect to see the sheriff’s Marine Unit as well as Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers and the U.S. Coast Guard as they celebrate the holiday on waterways and out in the Gulf. Authorities will be checking to make sure everyone has proper safety equipment, including flotation devices. They will also be looking for boaters that may be intoxicated.

National Boating Safety Week, May 17-23, preludes the Memorial Day Weekend and is designed to increase awareness of the important of wearing a life jacket at all times. The National Weather Service is participating in this year’s Wear It campaign, providing information on the dangers of drinking and boating, thunderstorm safety, life jacket awareness, hurricane preparedness, safe navigation in fog and the importance of fire extinguishers. Visit

Most boating fatalities are by drowning. According to the National Safe Boating Council, the lead organization of the Wear It campaign, 84 percent of those who drown, while boating, are not wearing a life jacket. Visit

“Don’t just carry a life jacket – ‘Wear It!” is the campaign’s theme. And the organization is accepting no excuses.

“Now, new styles are available – comfortable, lightweight and perfect for any boating activity or sport,” according to the campaign literature. “Boaters should know that today’s life jackets come in all shapes and sizes from comfortable inherently buoyant styles to inflatable suspenders and belt packs. There are even life jackets for our four-legged friends.”

According to the U.S. Coast Guard – another sponsor of Safe Boating Week, someone is injured or killed in a boating accident every 2 ˝ hours. The chance of drowning is one is 66 for those who wear a life jacket and one in 11 for those who don’t. Nearly 57 percent of boating accidents are due to operator error, poor judgment or inexperience.

Florida ranks No. 1 for the most boating fatalities in 2013 with 58 and No. 1 for the most boating accidents with 685. California ranked No. 2 with 37 deaths and 426 accidents. In 2012, Pinellas County ranked No. 3 in the state for the number of accidents, according to a report from the FWC.

“Every day I hear about the grim consequences of not wearing a life jacket while boating,” said Rachel Johnson, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council. “You can still have fun on the water while choosing to always wear a life jacket and boating responsibly.”

Tow to Go

Since 1998, AAA and Budweiser have collaborated to offer a Tow to Go program throughout Florida, Georgia, and the Western two-thirds of Tennessee. Since the program began, more than 23,000 intoxicated drivers have taken advantage of the last-resort service to get home safely.

The free program available to AAA members and nonmembers provides a tow and free ride home.

Tow to Go is available this Memorial Day holiday from May 23 through 6 a.m. May 27.

Residents in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee can call 855-2-TOW-2-GO (855-286-9246).

Tow trucks can take up to two people home. Appointments are not accepted. Tow to Go is designed to the used as a last resort. Partiers should designate a driver before drinking begins. In certain situations, AAA may contact a cab company or law enforcement to assist with getting an intoxicated person home.
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