Gas prices fuel higher holiday traffic forecasts

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By Krys Estes

Contributing Writer

Low gas prices and moderate weather reports have travel experts forecasting an increase in holiday traffic this year. Nearly three million North Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more during Christmas and New Year’s, according to AAA Carolinas.

At least 2.5 million of those travelers, or approximately 90 percent, will take a car to their destination.  The forecast represents an increase of 41,000 travelers over last year, AAA Carolinas said.

One factor driving auto traffic is low gas prices. Leading into the holiday travel season, which is defined as Dec. 23-Jan. 3, gas prices in Wilmington averaged $1.99 a gallon, according to the website Gasbuddy.com, representing a 41 cent decline in fuel prices from this time last year.

“Falling gas prices will lead to more North Carolinians traveling to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year with family and friends,” said David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.

Gas prices are the lowest they have been in seven years, Gasbuddy.com reported. And there’s more to come, the website forecasts, as fuel prices are expected to continue their decline through the beginning of January due to an abundant local supply as well as fewer people driving during the winter months.

Another concern for AAA Carolinas is drunk or impaired driving, Parsons said.

“With most people hitting the roads during this time, we want to stress the importance of buckling up, avoiding drinking and driving, and eliminating distractions behind the wheel such as cell phone usage,” he said.

AAA Carolinas said 49 people died on North Carolina roads last year during the holidays, an increase of seven more fatalities than the previous year.  AAA Carolinas urged motorists to assign designated drivers during the holidays, as drunk driving has shown to be a problem during travel periods due to the frequency of holiday parties, especially around the New Year’s celebration.

To help keep drunk driving in check, state and local police will step up DUI checkpoints and extra patrols on North Carolina roads from Dec. 11 to Jan. 3 as part of the “Booze It & Lose It” campaign. As part of the governor’s highway safety program, DUI task forces will be set up in nine counties, including New Hanover County.

In 2014, 380 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver, and in December 2014 there were 24 people killed in crashes involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, the North Carolina Department of Transportation reported. One of those deaths occurred on Christmas Day.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation will suspend most construction projects during the holiday travel period to prevent extra delays with a few exceptions, which can be found by visiting: https://apps.ncdot.gov/newsreleases/details.aspx?r=12085.

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