Jim Rink (313) 336-1513
An estimated 1.4 million Michiganians said they will travel during the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday period, a 6-percent decrease from last year, says AAA Michigan. AAA also forecasts a small decline in the number of holiday travelers nationally.
“The economy continues to present challenges for Michigan residents looking to travel this Thanksgiving,” said AAA Michigan Vice President Branch Operations Marti DeVries. “However, the desire to spend time with family, combined with much lower gas prices, will provide a strong impetus for many to travel. Our highways and airports will still be busy this holiday period.”
Due to the traffic-related deaths and injuries that take place during this time of year – and a trend of college students who get together with friends over drinks the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving – dubbed “Black Wednesday” – Michigan law enforcement agencies will take special measures to enforce safety belt and drunk driving laws.
“Law enforcement agencies, including local police departments, sheriffs’ offices and Michigan State Police posts, will make traffic enforcement a priority for the Thanksgiving holiday period,” said Michigan State Police Director Col. Peter C. Munoz. “Using federal traffic safety funds, 145 law enforcement agencies in 25 counties will put additional patrols on the roads to conduct safety belt enforcement zones or evening patrols with a special emphasis on apprehending drunk drivers.”
Munoz added that the additional patrols will run from Nov. 24-30.
One of the ways AAA will help make holidays safer is by providing its annual “Great Pretender Party Guide,” with nonalcoholic drinks and traffic safety tips, free to the public. “We encourage those at family gatherings and holiday parties to make sure no one is drinking and driving, especially those under 21,” noted AAA Traffic Safety Manager Jack Peet.
Despite the economy, many family members will travel by air this holiday weekend. “We advise air travelers to arrive at the airport at least two to three hours before scheduled departure times,” DeVries noted. She also advises travelers to confirm flight schedules, print boarding passes at home and keep luggage to a minimum.
“If you haven’t traveled since the last holiday season, you will find many changes,” DeVries added. “Most airlines continue to charge fees for checked bags and other previously complimentary services like beverages and snacks. Travelers should check with their airline or AAA agent about any other additional fees.” According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, based on available rates this holiday, Thanksgiving holiday travelers can expect to pay more for airfare and car rentals -- airfares are up eight percent, while car rentals on average are up four percent.
Cars, trucks and vans represent the most popular form of Thanksgiving transportation across the U.S. (81 percent).
In Michigan, motorists will find gas prices at historic lows for this time of year, paying an average $1.21 less per gallon than last Thanksgiving holiday. The statewide average for self-serve regular (as of Nov. 17) is $1.957 per gallon.
The 102-hour Thanksgiving Day holiday (6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, to 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30) is traditionally a time for family travel. But the holiday coincides with the firearm deer hunting season, which means hunters also will take advantage of the holiday weekend.
A large deer herd, combined with large numbers of cars on the road, creates a high probability for collisions. In 2007, 61,907 deer-vehicle crashes were reported. Last year, 11 motorists lost their lives in car-deer crashes, while another 1,614 persons were injured.
“Car-deer crashes in Michigan cause at least $130 million in damage annually, with an average cost of $2,100 per vehicle,” said Peet, who also serves as Chair of the Michigan Deer Crash Coalition (MDCC).
During the 2007 Thanksgiving holiday period, 11 persons died in 11 fatal crashes on Michigan roads, compared with 21 deaths in 2006. Restraints were used by four of the victims who had them available. One of the fatal crashes was alcohol-related.
AAA Michigan and the Michigan State Police (MSP) urge all motorists to avoid alcohol, buckle up, be well rested and drive defensively.
For the latest Michigan traffic and construction reports, visit AAA.com/traffic. To check road conditions before leaving home, call the MSP winter travel advisory hotline at 1-800-381-8477 or visit www.michigan.gov/roadconditions. The winter travel advisory is updated at least twice daily with information provided by law enforcement and public safety personnel working throughout Michigan.