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Travelers, take care: Holiday traffic up

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

With an anticipated increase in holiday travelers this year, officials are recommending that motorists follow some simple guidelines when taking on the open road.
Holiday travel in Florida is projected to jump 3.1 percent this year from 2009, according to a prepared statement from AAA Auto Club South. More than 4.8 million Floridians are expected to take a trip of 50 miles or more away from home beginning with Christmas week on through until Jan. 2.
Overall, travel within the United States also is projected to increase 3.1 percent, with the number of estimated travelers higher than 3.9 million.
“This is the second year in a row we are seeing consistent increases in national holiday travel numbers,” Brent Hubele, vice president of AAA Travel, wrote in the prepared statement. “This represents healthy growth following a relatively strong 4.4 percent increase in 2009 holiday travel.”
The increase in travelers can be attributed to a few factors, according to Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South. She said there were still many Americans who did not feel comfortable asking their employer for time off during the holidays last year or they could not get the time off.
“Many consumers are better off now than they were before,” Brady said.
“Also, it’s the holidays, and people really want to spend it with their family and friends,” she added.
Holiday travel is mostly comprised of auto travelers, with the majority of Florida residents — 4.5 million — traveling by automobile, according to AAA. This is an increase of 3.2 percent from 2009. About 172,000 travelers are expected to take another mode of transportation, including a bus or train.
With so many on the road, officials are urging motorists to remain patient and to stay courteous — there are likely visitors who do not know their way around.
“Everybody wants to get to and from their designation safety,” Brady said. “Make sure you share the roadway.”
According to early figures from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 59 traffic fatalities reported in Lee County this year as of Dec. 5. In 2009, there were 73 deaths as of the same time.
Brady advised motorists to put down the cell phone while driving and to not drive distracted. New GPS units and navigational systems should be taken for a trial run before getting the family in the vehicle for that holiday road trip.
“Test it out before you leave,” she said.
Also pay attention to basic automobile maintenance — change the oil, make sure the vehicle’s battery is fully charged and rotate the tires before taking the vehicle on a long trip. Properly inflate all four tires as well, Brady added.
“Tire pressure is important in inclement weather,” she said.
One of the most important travel safety tips: Do not drink and drive.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, more than 59 percent of traffic fatalities during the 2009 New Year’s Day holiday period were alcohol related.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported there were 2,558 accidents on Florida roadways in 2009. Of those 2,558 crashes, about 30 percent of the drivers — 770 — had a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.
“All too often innocent, law-abiding people suffer tragic consequences due to this careless disregard for human life,” FHP Director Col. John Czernis wrote in a previously released statement.
As part of a national campaign that targets impaired drivers — “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.” — FHP is cracking down on impaired motorists up through Jan 2. Troopers are using zero-tolerance enforcement strategies to target those drivers who put themselves and others at risk.
“We are intensifying enforcement during the holidays and we will be especially vigilant during high-risk, night-time hours when impaired drivers are most likely to be on our roads,” Czernis wrote.
FHP officials offered the following travel tips for a safer holiday:
n Plan ahead: Whenever you plan to consume alcohol, designate a sober driver before going out and give that person the car keys.
n Do not drive: If you are impaired, call a taxi, use mass transit or call a sober friend or family member to get you home safely.
n Call it in: Promptly report impaired drivers to law enforcement by dialing *FHP (347) from a cell phone to reach the Florida Highway Patrol.
Up though Jan. 2, AAA Auto Club South is offering its Tow to Go program free of charge. It provides a confidential ride home and tow to anyone who may have had too much to drink. It is open to members and non-members.
To take advantage of Tow to Go, call 1-800-AAA-HELP (222-4357).