An estimated 977,700 North Carolina motorists – a 1.8% increase over last year and highest number in nine years – are expected to vacation by automobile this Memorial Day weekend, despite gas prices averaging $3.624 a gallon – 20 cents higher than last year.
Following our harsh winter, AAA warns batteries weakened by cold will be especially vulnerable to expected temperatures this weekend over 90 degrees, especially in stop-and-go traffic. More than 13,000 motorists are predicted to break down in the Carolinas and ask AAA for help this holiday weekend.
Memorial Day weekend also marks the beginning of the 100 deadliest days of driving for teens and nationally this weekend annually averages more than 400 traffic deaths overall and 42,000 significant injuries.
Those numbers are likely to increase with this year's holiday highway travel volume the highest since 2005. More than 88% of holiday travelers will drive.
Last year 14 people died on North Carolina roadways during the Memorial Day holiday and 13 died in South Carolina – the most deadly Memorial Day totals in North Carolina in the past four years and in South Carolina in the past six years.
South Carolina law enforcement will be out in force during the holiday looking for speeders and implementing its Buckle Up South Carolina campaign.
Boone has North Carolina's highest average gas price at $3.712 and the cheapest gas in the state is in Greensboro and Winston-Salem at $3.59 a gallon. The North Carolina average of $3.624 is the 27th highest in the country. South Carolina's average price is $3.461.
Travelers heading south will find prices in the $3.60 range in Georgia and Florida; those heading north will find prices around $3.45 in Virginia, and those heading west will find Tennessee prices around $3.45 but Kentucky averages more than $3.70 a gallon.
“Holiday trips are about getting away and it is not a time to become stressed behind-the-wheel,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “Relax by making sure your car is ready for the trip, be mentally prepared for traffic delays you may encounter on the way to your destination and take a rest break every couple of hours to remain mental alert.”
A total of 1,094,400 North Carolinians will travel more than 50 miles from home with the top drive destinations Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Gatlinburg TN and Williamsburg VA.
Travelers need to beware of gasoline stations selling E15 gasoline, since it is now permitted by the federal government but can invalidate the warranty on many vehicles. Only 5% of the vehicles on the road today are approved by manufacturers to run on E15, which is gasoline with 15% ethanol made from corn to reduce America's dependence on fossil fuels.
Fifty-nine stations in twelve states, mostly in the Mid-west, are selling E15 fuel despite warnings by manufacturers and automotive experts of potential engine damage.
Motorists should check decals on service station pumps to ensure they are using the proper fuel and check their owner's manual for fuel information.
This weekend shows an increase in those flying to 80,800, up 2.9% from 78,500 last year. Other travel (mostly bus, rail, maritime) will increase 9.1% from 32,800 last year to 35,900 by North Carolinians this year.
With river cruises soaring in popularity and famous European cities as launching points, the top three air destinations this month have been London, Paris and Rome, followed by Seattle and Orlando.
Average national hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are up 2% to $169 per night, compared to $166 last year, while AAA Two Diamond hotel rates have risen 3% to $124 per night from $120 last year. Car rental rates will average $44 per day, up 1% from last year and air fares on the top 40 U.S. routes have increased 6% to $227 from $215 last year.
The most congested times for travel are expected to be Friday afternoon and evening – with traffic increasing earlier in the day than usual – as well as Monday evening, as travelers head back home.
Memorial Day weekend launches the “100 deadliest days” for teen drivers, with seven of the 10 most deadly days of the year occurring between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
One of the biggest contributing factors in fatal accidents involving teen drivers is the number of other teen passengers in the car. Fatal crash rates for 16- to 19-year-olds increase five times when two or more teen passengers are present, compared to driving alone. AAA recommends parents discuss this and other driver distraction issues, like texting or using a cell phone while driving, with their teens.
Most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes will be suspended from 4 p.m. Friday, May 24, until 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 28.
For the latest on construction delays, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, www.NCDOT.gov. Click on Travel & Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System for up-to-date traffic information related to closed travel lanes, accidents or expected congestion due to sporting events, such as Charlotte's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race this weekend.
The five-day Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 22 through Monday, May 26. Survey data is taken from AAA's Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.
To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.
The free AAA Mobile app for iPhone and Android devices uses GPS navigation to help travelers map a route, find updated gas prices, view nearby member discounts and access AAA Roadside Assistance.