06/29/07 — Getting ready to start July 4th holiday? Experts tell travelers to hit road later

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Getting ready to start July 4th holiday? Experts tell travelers to hit road later

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 29, 2007 1:45 PM

You may want to consider starting out your July 4 trip Monday rather than today.

AAA of the Carolinas estimates there will be more than 400,000 drivers on the interstate highways in North Carolina from Friday to Wednesday, and you can expect some clogs if you plan to hit an interstate this weekend.

Although Friday is expected to be the most congested day travelwise, Monday should be the best travel day. Only about 6 percent of vacationers are telling AAA they expect to leave Monday on a trip of more than 100 miles from home.

AAA president David E. Parsons said it doesn't seem to matter that gasoline prices are up 15 cents from last year.

"The higher gasoline prices haven't discouraged families seeking to take their traditional July 4th holiday. Because the Fourth falls on a Wednesday, many people plan to take the entire week off or at least five days," he said.

Gas prices in the state have dropped dramatically since Memorial Day, down 24.7 cents per gallon on average in North Carolina. Motorists will find the least expensive gas in Wilmington at $2.812 a gallon. The most expensive in the state is in Charlotte at $2.874.

But still, Doug Rochelle at Quixote Travels on Spence Avenue said people are staying fairly close to home on their travels. Most are going to places like Myrtle Beach. Many have already made their vacation plans months ago and booked trips during the July 4 week to places like Disney World -- and the other Orlando theme parks.

"They go to Sea World and Universal Studios. They're all in the same vicinity within 30 minutes of each other," he said.

But even with the lower gas cost, travelers are being budget-conscious, Rochelle added.

"Gas prices are so high," he said. "Even though they came down in the last week, it's still not enough."

A Wednesday July 4 also is affecting travel, he added.

Rochelle said there would be a lot more traveling going on if the holiday fell on a Monday or a Friday. The next July 4 will fall on a Thursday, and he expects a lot of people to take off Friday and make a long weekend to travel.

People steer away from July 4 for business trips, he said. It costs too much for a round trip, and nobody wants to be away from home during that time.

Airports in the state will become jammed with more than 40,000 passengers.

State troopers will have a strict speed enforcement campaign in place between Friday and July 8.

Over the 2006 July 4 holiday, 20 traffic fatalities were reported in North Carolina.

On any highway trip, AAA recommends that drivers take at least a 15-minute break every 150 miles or two hours. AAA studies have found that drowsy driving occurs almost as frequently as speeding and is nearly as deadly.

Other safety tips include wearing your seat belt, don't drink and drive, don't tailgate, show patience in heavy traffic, obey speed limits and make your drive part of your vacation to reduce the pressure to get to your destination as soon as possible.

Here are some tips to conserve gas:

Speeding at 75 miles per hour instead of 65 means your gas mileage is cut by up to 10 percent for every 5 miles per hour you go over 65.

*Keep your vehicle maintained. A clogged air filter can cut mileage by up to 10 percent, and a faulty oxygen sensor can reduce mileage 40 percent.

*Keep tires properly inflated. For every three pounds below the recommended pressure, your fuel economy drops one percent.

*Shop for the best price. Along interstate highways, truck stops often offer the best gas prices. All fuel today meets federal standards, regardless of price.

*Skip the air conditioner when you reach a traffic clog. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, consider turning the air conditioner off and opening the windows to keep the engine from overheating.

*Stop and start smoothly. Don't wait until the last minute to apply the brakes nor take off with the pedal to the metal. Stop and start smoothly.

*Follow your Owner's Manual's suggestions for your vehicle. Don't use premium gasoline if regular is suggested. Ethanol or E85 will reduce your miles per gallon by 15-40 percent.