Holiday travel expected to be heavy

More people than last year are expected to hit the road this Fourth of July holiday travel period, possibly tying the past decade’s volume record.

“We are projecting a pretty robust travel period,” Jessica Brady, the spokeswoman for the AAA Auto Club Group, said Friday. “We are expecting this year to tie the record in the past decade for the highest volume.”

The Fourth of July holiday travel period runs from July 3-8.

This year, 42.3 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home for the holiday. That is a 5 percent increase from 2011.

The anticipated volume would equal that of 2007 – the record holder.

In Florida, AAA estimates that 2.1 million residents will travel – a 5 percent jump over last year. Of those Floridians, 1.8 million are projected to drive.

“That does not account for the many people who come into Florida to enjoy the holiday,” she said. “So we’re going to have some pretty busy roadways.”

Brady noted that despite the anticipated increase in travelers, the median amount of spending this holiday is expected to be down about 7 percent.

Spending is estimated to be about $749, compared to $807 in 2011.

“People are looking to economize,” she said.

Inexpensive activities and staying with family or friends or in low-budget hotels or motels are the trend. While shopping and entertainment may drop by as much as 9 percent, visiting and sightseeing could jump 4 percent.

AAA attributed the higher volume of travelers to two factors.

“The fact that it is a six-day holiday versus the typical five-day holiday,” Brady said, adding that it means one extra travel day and more flexibility.

For example, co-workers unable to take the same time off could split the first half and the second half of the week, allowing both to travel some.

The second factor is the falling gas prices.

“Gas prices have fallen substantially since they peaked in April,” she said.

The current average cost of gas in Florida is $3.21 per gallon. That is 8 cents less than last week, and prices are projected to continue to fall.

“It does look like prices are going to continue to decrease into July,” Brady said, adding that they have typically dropped an average of 5 cents per week.

The spike in April was attributed to a threat by Iran that it was going to block a major passageway for one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. A meeting between UN officials and Iran eased concerns and the threat was dropped.

The decline in gas prices since April is tied to multiple factors.

“Supply and demand came into play,” she said, adding that there was weakened demand numbers and an increased supply.

The decrease in manufacturing across the globe and Europe’s financial issues, including the drop in the value of the euro, also played a part.

“All of that combined has caused oil prices to fall, and that in turn has caused retail gas prices to drop,” Brady said.

For those who take to the road this holiday period, AAA offers a few suggestions to keep you and your traveling companions safe.

“Drive defensively,” she said.

“Leave ample room between yourself and the vehicle in front of you,” Brady added. “Pay attention to the car in front of the car in front of you.”

Do not use a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Program the GPS before beginning a trip and also familiarize yourself with it beforehand.

Properly inflated tires and windshield wipers in good condition are a must.

“So that you have keen visibility in case it begins to rain,” she said.

AAA will offer its Tow to Go program from July 4-7. Tow to Go provides a confidential ride and tow home from any bar or restaurant – free of charge – to anyone who may have had too much to drink. You do not have to be a AAA member to use the service. Simply call 800-AAA-HELP (222-4357).

“We do ask that the program be used as a last resort,” Brady said, adding that people should first turn to a designated driver or cab for a ride.

“However, if you’re in a bind, you can call and we will send a tow truck driver to get you home safety,” she said.

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