Dec. 19, 2014. Nearly three million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more for the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, according to AAA Carolinas.
The record number – 2,939,500 – represents an increase of 113,000 compared to last year. An estimated 2,675,000, or 91 percent of total travelers, plan to drive to their destination.
“Falling gas prices and an improving economy has led to more North Carolinians traveling to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year with family and friends,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “With most people hitting the roads during this time, we want to stress the importance of buckling up, avoiding drinking and driving, texting behind the wheel and speeding.”
The 13-day Christmas/New Year’s travel holiday is defined as Tuesday, Dec. 23, through Saturday, Jan. 4, which is one day longer than the travel period last year.
As the longest holiday travel period of the year, it is also one of the deadliest. Last year, 42 people died on North Carolina roads during the year-end holiday travel period – that is five more fatalities than in 2012.
Those driving to their destinations will encounter the lowest gas prices since 2009. North Carolinians are currently paying 74 cents less for a gallon of gas than they were a year ago. Gas prices in North Carolina are 24 cents lower than they were on Thanksgiving Day. The statewide average is currently $3.48 and prices are expected to continue their decline through the start of 2015, due to an abundant supply domestically and less people driving in the winter months.
North Carolina motorists will find the cheapest gas in Charlotte at $2.43 and the most expensive gas in Boone at $2.67. For those traveling through South Carolina, the average price per gallon is 21 cents lower than North Carolina’s.
An estimated 156,700 North Carolinians will fly to their destinations, a slight increase from last year.
Driven by low-cost carriers, airfares are down 7 percent from a year ago, averaging $186 for the top 40 U.S. routes. However, car rental rates are up 4 percent from a year ago to $66 per day.
Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels have increased by 4 percent from a year ago, averaging $143 per night. AAA Two Diamond hotels average $108 per night, a 5 percent increase from last year.
With holiday parties frequently held between Christmas and New Year’s, drunk driving is always a major problem during this travel period. AAA advises drivers to assign a designated driver or call a cab if they are planning to consume alcohol.
North Carolina’s “Booze It & Lose It” campaign, which started Dec. 12 and runs through Jan. 4, includes checkpoints and stepped-up patrols to remove impaired drivers from North Carolina roads.
During the holiday period, unexpected weather or vehicle problems may leave motorists stranded. AAA Carolinas recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car that includes:
- Cell phone and car charger
- Blankets and flashlight with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Drinking water and non-perishable snacks
- Small shovel and a sack of sand or cat litter for traction
- Windshield scraper
- Battery booster cables
- Emergency triangle reflectors
- Change of clothes, including socks and shoes
North Carolina suspends most construction projects during the holiday travel period, with these exceptions:
- U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street) in Elizabeth City is reduced to one lane in each direction from Road Street to the Pasquotank River Bridge for resurfacing and construction of a new bridge.
- U.S. 158 in Currituck and Dare counties will have traffic in a two way and a two lane pattern on the U.S. 158 Bridge over the Currituck Sound due to the ongoing deck rehabilitation.
- U.S. 264 in Dare County will be reduced to one of two lanes controlled by temporary traffic signals in three locations for the replacement of three bridges. Lane closures are located between Stumpy Point and the Hyde County line.
- U.S. 158 in Hertford County between Murfreesboro and Winton may be reduced to one of two lanes in the eastbound lanes for paving operations.
- N.C. 12 in Dare County South of Bonner Bridge may be reduced to one of two lanes to continue clearing sand adjacent to the road from the recent nor’easter storm. Impacts should be minor.
- I-440 in Raleigh is in a two-lane pattern in both directions between I-40 and U.S. 64/264. Also there may be lane closures the nights of Dec. 29 and 30.
- I-73 in Guilford County is reduced to two lanes in each direction between I-40 and I-85 for a new interchange with High Point Road.
For the latest on construction delays, up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to special events, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website at www.ncdot.org, and click on Travel and Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System.
Survey data is taken from AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight Holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.
To estimate fuel costs, drivers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of the car.
The free AAA mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find updated gas prices, view nearby member discounts and access AAA Roadside Assistance.