AAA projects the number of Americans traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday will increase 11.4 percent from 2009. Last year 37.9 million Americans traveled the Thanksgiving weekend. This year expect some 42.2 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles away from home.
AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet credits part of this increase on an improved economy: “This improvement, along with a strong desire to spend time with friends and family, is expected to propel a significant increase in Thanksgiving travel.”
Thanksgiving is not just a long weekend with lots of people on the roads; it’s the first of three holidays that come in quick succession, making it the start of prolonged period of increased traffic. But with some good planning and carefully driving, you can make yourself, your family, and everyone sharing the road with you a bit safer this holiday season.
Driving gives you control over your schedule. Leave when you want, travel as long as you want, and stop whenever you want along the way. No waiting in airports. No showing up two hours early. No getting really acquainted with TSA personnel without getting dinner first.
But you don’t have any control over traffic, so plan accordingly. Be prepared for increased traffic especially on the Wednesday before or the Sunday after. And there are still a lot of people who believe you have to shop on Black Friday, and stores lure them out with all kinds special offers; they contribute to traffic problems, too.
Avoid some of the hassle by leaving early. If you think it will take two hours to get there, leave two and half hours earlier. You’ll have extra time for any surprises or delays, and you won’t arrive feeling so stressed from the road.
Most people travel on Wednesday and Thursday, and many people taking long trips for the weekend will return on Sunday. So if your schedule lets you, leave on Tuesday and come back on Friday or Saturday.
Schedule most of your driving during daylight hours when visibility is best. Darkness comes early and stays later this time of year, and Texas weather is more unpredictable than usual in the fall. Driving in daylight will help keep you safer.
Make sure your car is ready for the trip. Check tire pressure, battery life, and all the various fluids in the car. Prepare for winter weather with new wiper blades and even tires, if necessary. Get a winter road kit if you don’t have one, and check yours if you do. If you’re going to be relying on your car for an extended travel this weekend, check the engine or get some qualified person to do so.
Don’t overdo it. Sure, you may be trying to make a lot of miles in one day, but pushing yourself to long and hard is a great way to not get there at all. Plan the trip realistically, and don’t try to go further in one drive than you can handle. Stop every two hours, whether you think you need it or not, and take a short break from driving. Get something to eat, or just walk around the car a few times. Anything that doesn’t involve staring down the road will refresh your attention span.
When you drive, drive. Concentrate on the road ahead and the traffic around you. Instead of looking for local traffic reports on the radio or reaching for food in the back seat, have a passenger do it: that’s why you brought them along after all. Stay off the phone, and don’t even think about sending a text message. (Remember: there are three kinds of driving distraction, and texting creates all three.)
Finally, the real American passtime of overeating will make you sleepy, and if we’re talking about foods with tryptophan like turkey and milk the effect is intensified. Just like every other day of the year, don’t get on the road if you’re not alert enough to be driving. And trying to “tough it out” and drive when you’re not ready isn’t manly; it’s just stupid.
DEAL KINDLY WITH OFFICERS
If you do get pulled over, don’t take your frustration or embarrassment out on the officer. Not only are they doing their job — an important job, by the way, which is keeping you safe — but it’s Thanksgiving for them too. These officers are giving up part of their holiday weekend to protect you and your family.