Local News

1 Million to hit N.C. Highways despite high gas prices

Posted November 19, 2007 2:32 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2008 12:45 p.m. EST

— Gas prices are at near-record highs in North Carolina just as more than 1 million drivers plan to hit the roads this Thanksgiving holiday, the AAA said on Monday.

Gas averages $3.08 a gallon statewide, up 88 cents from Thanksgiving a year ago.

"This is the first time that we have seen gas prices tipping over $3 a gallon in November," Robert L. Darbelnet, national president and chief executive of the AAA, said in a statement.

Although gas prices usually drop as summer demand ebbs, oil prices flirting with $100 a barrel and low fuel stockpiles reversed that trend this year. Demand was also 0.6 percent higher in the four weeks ending Nov. 9 than it was a year earlier, the U.S. Energy Department said.

The higher prices, though, will not likely keep holiday travelers off the roads in the Carolinas, the AAA predicted.

The organization estimated 1.09 million North Carolinians and 533,400 South Carolinians will hit the highways – an increase of 2 percent over last year’s record Thanksgiving holiday travel. AAA surveys found 43 percent planned to travel with two to three other people, and 71 percent of parents would take along their children.

Some relief for travelers is in sight: Nationally, airfares are down approximately 7 percent, hotel room prices are flat or slightly lower, and car rental rates have dropped 12 percent.

AAA estimated that 163,000 North Carolinians will take to the skies, contributing to a 4 percent nationwide jump in passenger traffic.

“Record flight delays and congestion in airport terminals will require passengers to practice defensive flying,” David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement.

“We suggest people fly direct when possible, pack appropriately, fly early in the day, use curbside check-in service, and program cell phone numbers for airlines, rental cars and others you may need to contact if there is a flight delay. Know where to complain.”

The expected increase comes in a year of record-low punctuality for the industry. Through September, more than 24 percent of flights arrived late, according to the Transportation Department – the worst on-time performance since data was first collected in 1995.

President George Bush has ordered steps to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays, including opening unused military airspace from Florida to Maine to create "a Thanksgiving express lane" for commercial airliners.

To help speed up road traffic in North Carolina, road construction will be suspended from 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20 until 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 26.

The state Highway Patrol launched Operation Slowdown on Nov. 13 to target speeders and agressive driving on interstates and major four-lane highways. Troopers will be using helicopters in the crackdown.

In 2006, 11 people died on North Carolina roads, the lowest death totals for Thanksgiving in three years.

“I have instructed our troopers to crack down on speeders this holiday weekend; speed is the leading cause of fatal collisions on our highways,” Col. W. Fletcher Clay, commander of the Highway Patrol, said.

“Getting to your destination safely should be your No. 1 goal. Don’t try to cut off a few minutes of your drive time by speeding or driving aggressively. It’s just not worth it.”

Sobriety checkpoints will also be set up across the state.

Transportation workers warned of the dangers of driving while sleepy. Drivers suffering from fatigue were involved in 611 crashes statewide in 2006, causing three deaths and 307 injuries, according to DOT data.

“Driving on too little sleep puts the driver and everyone else on the roads and roadways at risk,” said Kevin Lacy, DOT’s state traffic engineer. “Whether heading out on a long trip or just going down the street, be sure you are well rested. It may save your life or someone else’s.”

Motorists can report problems to Highway Patrol by dialing *HP (*47) on cell phones. The toll‑free call goes directly to the nearest Highway Patrol communication center.