By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT — At some point this week, to go over that river and through those woods to Grandmother’s house, you’re going to have to drive on a highway.
And you won’t be alone.
It might seem like the roads will be more crowded than the kiddie table on Thanksgiving Day.
According to AAA, about 39 million Americans will pack a bag, gas up the car and hit the roads to get to that savory holiday turkey and steaming mashed potatoes … and to Grandma, too.
Many will be driving 50 miles or more over the holiday travel period, which starts Wednesday and ends Sunday, Dec. 1.
Take more cars on the roads, add some “gotta get there before the stuffing’s all gone” rush, toss in bad weather, impatient drivers, traffic delays and been-on-the-road-too-long passengers, and you’ve got a holiday recipe for traffic accidents.
So take it easy.
What type of holiday driver are you?
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“Last year’s travel numbers included pent-up demand resulting from the economic downturn,” said Jim Lehman, president, AAA East Central. “Although slightly lower this year, the forecast is consistent with the travel trends that we have seen throughout the year. Motorists will also enjoy the bonus of lower gas prices, which are at their lowest level for the holiday since 2010,” he added.
According to AAA, 37 percent of those surveyed said they plan to travel on the day before the holiday, and 33 percent will return that Sunday, logging an average 601 miles. Most will spend about $465 for gas, food and lodging.
While at Grandma’s, most people will spend time with family and friends (67 percent) and dine out (56 percent). Almost half (44 percent) plan to get in a little Christmas shopping, too, hitting all those Black Friday specials.
Just relax, advised Bevi Powell, senior vice president for AAA East Central.
• First of all, she said, plan your trip.
“Have a clear-cut plan of where you’re going.”
Plan an alternate route, in case of weather or road construction, or just a change of pace. Make sure you have directions, a map or GPS. Make motel reservations in advance.
• Plan your pretrip.
“Get a lot of rest the night before,” she said.
Have everything packed and ready to go. Make sure the mail, paper and other deliveries are stopped. Double check to make sure that everything that should be unplugged, turned off or put away, is. Power up all your electronic devices. Do all this the night before the trip so that you can …
• Get on the road on time.
“Leave early enough so that you don’t feel stressed,” she said.
Listen to radio weather forecasts. Listen to your front-seat navigator that your exit is coming up or to watch out for traffic. Listen to the peanut gallery in the back to hear if someone suddenly needs to make a pit stop.
If traffic gets to be too much or if the kids get too rambunctious, pull off at the nearest exit, she said.
“Have something to eat. Do whatever you need to do to relax.”
• Double check personal items.
Make sure you have anything that you can’t replace while away, such as prescription medications or credit/debit cards.
• Don’t forget Old Betsy.
Fuel up the night before. Check fluids and tire pressures before you leave. Get an oil change if the trip is really long. Clean out the car and leave all the unneeded stuff at home. Make sure you have that up-to-date map as an old-school back-up to that nifty GPS Santa brought you last year.
• Be prepared.
Bring supplies in the event of an accident or medical issue. Stock your car with an emergency kit, especially a flashlight, blanket, first-aid kit and some basic tools. Also, bring water and extra snacks just in case.
• Pack smart.
Check your vehicle’s load capacity to make sure you aren’t putting too much weight in the car. On most new cars, the total weight you can carry is printed on a placard (sticker) inside the driver’s door. This load rating includes all the passengers and cargo. Also, make sure your gear is packed properly and will not be a hazard if you stop short.
• Track it.
A portable GPS navigation system will help you get where you’re going, making it easy to find gas stations or restaurants along the way. Traffic-enabled devices can warn of roadway congestion, and all units can assist in finding an alternate route. Also, a navigator can help direct emergency services to your location, should something happen.
• Kid prep.
If you’re driving with kids, make sure you pack enough snacks, water, games, videos/DVDs and music to keep them occupied during your journey.
• Traveling with pets?
Be sure to secure your pets, either with harnesses and seat belts or by placing them in a crate. Animals can be a dangerous distraction when driving and physical threat in an accident, should they travel about the cabin or escape onto a busy motorway. Bring water, food, toys, leash and cleanup supplies.
• Be patient.
During busy travel times, expect to hit traffic. It may make sense to drive late at night or early in the morning to avoid the rush and ensure you get to your destination on time and with minimal stress. A GPS device with traffic information and an exit guide can help you navigate around congestion and help find desired pit stop locations.
• Don’t be distracted.
Cellphones and driving don’t mix, so if you need to send a message or make a call, hand your phone to a passenger or pull over. It’s not worth risking your life or others on the road. And it’s probably illegal, too.
• Buckle up.
Always use your seat belt; make sure children are properly secured in a car seat and are seated in the rear seats if they are under 13.
• Take the back road.
If you have time, the weather’s good and you’re sure you won’t get lost, skip the interstate once in a while. There’s more to the American highway system than the interstate. See the America you’ve always heard about but never seen.
• Watch for weather.
If you’re driving in wintry weather, make sure you clear off the snow and ice for better visibility, allow for longer braking distances and reduce your speed.
• Keep control.
There could be a variety of scenarios on the road, but if you stay calm and be prepared you can get through any challenge.
• Most important of all, drive safely.
Obey speed limits, watch out for the other guy and keep your impatience under control.
Make this a trip your family will remember for all the right reasons.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at [email protected].
By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT — What kind of holiday driver are you?
Are you a turkey?
Are you a big old hunk of that sweet potato pie Grandma baked just for you?
Or do you scare the stuffing out of everybody and his brother?
Holiday driving can bring out the beast in you as you battle traffic jams and frustrating delays amid backseat choruses of “Are we there yet?” and well-meaning questions like, “Honey, was that our exit?”
Insurance.com commissioned a survey of 500 men and 500 women with children age 12 and under living at home about their driving behavior.
In a not-so-scientific poll, 15 female and 15 male drivers in Marion County were asked the same questions.
Have you ever:
1. Honked at someone driving too slowly?
• Insurance.com total: 41 percent of drivers. (Women: 39 percent. Men: 43 percent.)
• Marion County: Uh-oh. If your ears are ringing, it’s not because the driver behind you is complimenting your driving. Eight of the women and 12 of the men said they’ve have laid on the horn because of slow-pokes ahead of them. Best get the lead out.
2. Sworn in front of the kids while driving?
• Insurance.com total: 37 percent. (Women: 44 percent. Men: 30 percent.)
• Marion County: Cover the kids’ ears when Mom’s at the wheel. Nine of the women said they’d said a few nasty words in front of Johnny and Susie, while only three men said thay had. Of course, Mom’s more likely than Dad to be carting little Johnny and Susie around to soccer and band and football and such, so there’s an explanation.
3. Flipped someone off while driving?
• Insurance.com total: 29 percent. (Women: 31 percent. Men: 27 percent.)
• Marion County: Marion Countians are much more polite than that, to hear them tell the story. No woman admitted to having done this, while only four men said they had. (Nothing was asked about yelling or cussing, or making other gestures.)
4. Brake-checked a car following too closely?
• Insurance.com total: 28 percent. (Women: 30 percent. Men: 27 percent.)
• Marion County: You might want to back off a little. Twelve of the women and all 15 men said they would slow down if you get too close.
5. Sped up significantly to prevent someone from passing you?
• Insurance.com total: 26 percent. (Women: 25 percent. Men: 28 percent.)
• Marion County: We’re a little less possessive of our roads than the Insurance.com group. Only one of the women and seven of the male drivers are more than eager to dare you to try to pass. Go ahead. Try.
6. Gone when it wasn’t your turn at a four-way stop?
• Insurance.com total: 19 percent. (Women: 18 percent. Men: 20 percent.)
• Marion County: Not very many. None of the women admitted to doing this, while only two men said they did. “Too dangerous,” one woman said.
7. Tailgated someone on purpose because he or she was going too slowly?
• Insurance.com total: 18 percent. (Women: 21 percent. Men: 16 percent.)
• Marion County: You better keep up the pace, because five of the women and nine of the men admitted to tailgating.
8. Driven to the front of a merge line, then swerved and cut in?
• Insurance.com total: 12 percent. (Women: 11 percent. Men: 13 percent.)
• Marion County: Not one driver said he or she has ever done this. Of course, the flip question — Have you boxed out somebody trying to cut in line? — was never asked.
9. Stolen a parking spot someone else was waiting for?
• Insurance.com total: 11 percent. (Women: 9 percent. Men: 13 percent.)
• Marion County: Your space is safe. Only one man said he had done this. The women drivers were much more patient.
10. Driven in the breakdown lane around traffic?
• Insurance.com total: 10 percent. (Women: 8 percent. Men: 13 percent.)
• Marion County: None of the women said they’d ever done this, while men were more impatient. Four said they’d passed on the right.
11. Sped up to block another car with its signal on?
• Insurance.com total: 9 percent. (Women: 8 percent. Men: 10 percent.)
• Marion County: Only one male driver said he’d done this. One woman said she would even slow down to let the car in front of her.
12. Chased after a car that cut you off so you could glare at/flip off the other driver?
• Insurance.com total: 9 percent. (Women: 7 percent. Men: 11 percent.)
• Marion County: You shouldn’t ever cut people off, but here you’re relatively safe. Only one male driver said he’d done this. The women drivers let it slide.
13. Sworn in front of elderly in-laws while driving?
• Insurance.com total: 9 percent. (Women: 9 percent. Men: 10 percent.)
• Marion County: Whether out of respect for their elders or in fear of having their mouths washed out with soap, all of the drivers said they’ve never done this … and never, ever, ever would.
14. Dinged someone’s car in a parking lot and driven away?
• Insurance.com total: 8 percent. (Women: 8 percent. Men: 8 percent.)
• Marion County: One woman and two men admitted to having done this. “But we’ve all probably dinged a car without realizing it,” one woman said.
15. Turned on your brights at an oncoming car just to be mean?
• Insurance.com total: 7 percent. (Women: 4 percent. Men: 11 percent.)
• Marion County: Again, no one did this “just to be mean.” “But if they’re coming toward me and don’t turn their brights down, I’ll flick my brights to let them know,” one man said.
16. Keyed someone’s car?
• Insurance.com total: 5 percent. (Women: 3 percent. Men: 7 percent.)
• Marion County: Zilch. Nada. Nothing. One woman driver wasn’t even sure what this meant.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at [email protected].