“Ohio mirrors the national trend, so I do expect, not only roadways, but airports, to be incredibly busy,” said Cindy Antrican, spokeswoman for Miami Valley AAA.
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Increased travel has been typical this year. Thanksgiving travel volume reached a 13-year high, Labor Day was expected to be the highest traveled in a decade and more people traveled for the Fourth of July than ever before.
A healthy economy with low unemployment and tax changes that resulted in higher take-home pay have sparked more spending among consumers, including for travel.
Holiday gas prices are also at their lowest in years in the Dayton area, with average local gas price at $2.17 and some stations as low as $1.91. Antrican said to fill up in Ohio if traveling out of state because it’s one of the cheapest states in the region, along with Tennessee and Kentucky.
“Because of the way the holiday fell this year, we’re seeing quite a few people who are traveling as a vacation as their Christmas gift to themselves,” Antrican said. “A lot of people have Monday, Tuesday off, so think about it from a vacation standpoint. You’re only going to have to use three days of your vacation to get a week vacation.”
The Tuesday holiday is also likely to spread out holiday traffic, helping keep motorists safer with thinner traffic than is common for the Christmas season. Travelers had already started taking off mid-week and will continue starting trips through Monday, Antrican said.
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But thinner than average holiday traffic still leaves roadways busier than a typical day, and motorists should avoid dangerous driving habits such as following too closely, speeding and dangerous lane changes, said Sgt. Chris Colbert of the Ohio Highway Patrol Dayton post.
“I think people need to try to remember that this is a season of kindness and try to be a little more patient, whether you’re waiting in line at the airport to get through security or you’re on the highway driving to try to get to family members,” Antrican said.
Nationally, Thursday was expected to be the worst day to travel, but peak traffic varies by city, according to a AAA statement. After the holiday, Antrican said she also expects return traffic to be spread out as well, with the busiest day likely to fall the day after Christmas, Colbert said.
Weather will also be a contributing factor to safer road conditions and fewer stranded motorists this holiday as snow only shows up in Storm Center 7’s exclusive forecast one day.
“The main travel woes will be Thursday and Friday, especially Friday with the wind and rain,” said WHIO meteorologist Dontae Jones.
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Friday is expected to bring scattered rain throughout the day, which could turn to snow in the afternoon and evening, Jones said. The combined effect could cause some slick spots on roadways. There could also be a few sprinkles Sunday.
“Saturday would probably be the best day to travel as it is dry, but cold and breezy,” Jones said.
Fewer slick road conditions than in other years could prevent some crashes and though temperatures will be cold, they’re not nearly as cold as last year when AAA provided roadside assistance to nearly 5,000 people, including 1,600 battery calls.
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“Tire and battery problems are often associated with very, very hot temperatures or very, very cold temperatures…so maybe we won’t see as many this year, but that’s what I would hope,” Antrican said.
One of the biggest road hazards for the holidays is the increase in alcohol-related crashes and citations during the Christmas and New Year holidays, Colbert said.
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Tips for safe travel during holidays
Get vehicles checked before traveling
Put keys on counter until ready to leave to avoid locking them in car
Don’t drive after drinking
Slow down and increase distance behind car in front
Put away phones and avoid distracted driving
Keep water and blankets in the vehicle in case it becomes disabled