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Holiday season means travel time for many

By Staff | Dec 20, 2013

In Florida, an estimated 4.8 million people will travel during the 2013 year-end holiday season.

According to AAA, 0.8 percent more Floridians will journey 50 miles or more from home this year between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1 as compared to 2012. About 4.4 million will travel by automobile.

Nationwide, 94.5 million Americans are expected to travel – a 0.6 percent increase over last year. The upward trend marks the fifth consecutive year for increases and highest travel volume for the season.

“Travel has been on the rebound for the past five years and has finally reached an all-time high for the year-end holiday season,” Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA’s The Auto Club Group, said in a recent prepared statement.

“This year, the holiday travel period includes two weekends and provides an extra day for travelers to visit family and friends,” she said.

Nearly 30 percent of all Americans will take a trip this holiday, with more than one in four – 27 percent – taking a road trip. About 91 percent of travelers or 85.8 million will travel by automobile.

On local roads, area law enforcement will be on the lookout throughout the holiday season.

“Drunk driving or impaired driving this time of year is a major concern for us,” Sgt. Dana Coston, spokesman for the Cape Coral Police Department, said Thursday.

“While we don’t want there to be any DUI arrests, we know that there are going to be,” he said.

Police enforcement activities for impaired driving will increase through the year’s end.

“We are really encouraging people to plan ahead and have a designated driver or utilize a taxi or have a small gathering at home so they don’t have to travel,” Coston said.

For party hosts, officials suggest offering non-alcoholic drinks if alcohol is served, along with making sure there is room for intoxicated guests to stay the night or having a number for a taxi available.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will conduct a DUI checkpoint this weekend. Sgt. David Velez, a spokesman for the LCSO, said no additional enforcements were planned as of Thursday.

“But, our deputies will be looking out for people who are conducting infractions,” he said. “All deputies are on alert, especially for impaired drivers.”

Velez urged party-goers to plan ahead by having a designated driver or number for a taxi.

“A key thing is, obviously, don’t drink and drive,” he said.

Motorists should also be aware of what medications they are taking as some can impair driving.

“The key is do not drive,” Velez said.

Authorities offered other tips to keep travelers safe through the year-end holiday season.

“This time of year, we have a nice influx of residents here in the community,” Velez said. “There’s going to be extra traffic on the roads – a lot of people on the roads.”

Drive defensively, be courteous and have patience.

“We’re an advocate of everybody following the safety rules of the road,” he said.

Coston noted that impatience and rudeness could lead to road rage incidents and accidents.

“We know that everybody is a little bit frazzled right now,” he said. “Being an impatient driver and being discourteous to drivers around you is definitely not smart holiday traveling.”

Motorists should plan to leave early for their destinations.

“The big things that we’re pushing for people is to make sure they’re allowing themselves a little extra time,” Coston said. “A lot of our seasonal residents have returned.”

Drivers should obey the speed limit, which can be aided by planning ahead and leaving early.

“Getting a citation or getting into a crash will definitely delay you from getting to your destination,” he said. “It doesn’t pay to try to make that light.”

Travelers should also make sure to buckle up this holiday season.

“Seat belts save lives,” Coston said.

For people traveling out of town, officials suggested that they make sure their vehicle is in proper working order. They should have a spare tire and jack, emergency kit and first aid kit available.

“Have your cell phone charged,” he said.

The Fort Myers Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol have joined other agencies across the country to take part in the campaign Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. The impaired driving crackdown will include high-visibility enforcement and saturation patrols. The national push runs through Jan. 1.

AAA and Bud Light are again offering the Tow to Go program through Jan. 1 to the public for the holiday. It is designed to help discourage an intoxicated driver from getting behind the wheel.

The service provides a confidential ride to the driver to a safe location within a 10-mile radius. The service is free, and the AAA tow truck will take the vehicle and driver to the safe location.

To use the Tow to Go program, call (855) 2-TOW-2-GO (286-9246).