Gas prices down, travel up for Memorial Day

  • Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:09 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:10 a.m.

The State Highway Patrol is reminding motorists to be careful as they enjoy the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The holiday officially kicks off the summer vacation season in North Carolina. This means more people will be on the highways, increasing the chance of traffic crashes.

Troopers will increase patrols on all interstates and major four lane highways during the holiday weekend. Speed is the leading cause of traffic collisions and fatalities in the state.

The Highway Patrol will also join other law enforcement agencies at “Click-It or Ticket” seatbelt checkpoints across the state throughout the week, and Troopers will be participating in the nationwide “Operation C.A.R.E.” (Combined Accident Reduction Effort). “Operation C.A.R.E.” is a coordinated education and enforcement effort involving all Highway Patrol and state police agencies across the nation. These high visibility patrols during national holiday periods are designed to prevent crashes and ensure voluntary compliance with motor vehicle laws.

The Memorial Day holiday, which is set aside to honor deceased men and women from the Armed Forces, is expected to be a busy one on North Carolina highways. The holiday weekend officially begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, and ends at midnight, Monday. Last year the Highway Patrol investigated five fatal collisions and more than 360 injury-related collisions during the Memorial Day weekend.

Citizens may report crashes, impaired drivers, stranded motorists or other highway situations to the Highway Patrol by dialing * HP (*47) on their cellular telephones. This is a toll-free call that connects the caller to the nearest Highway Patrol communications center.

According to AAA Carolinas, an estimated 897,300 North Carolina motorists — a 1.5 percent increase over last year — are expected to hit the road as the summer travel season kicks off this Memorial Day weekend.

A significant drop in gas prices, currently at $3.43 in North Carolina — down 37 cents since peaking on Feb. 22 — is helping to fuel the increase in holiday travel. North Carolina’s average price is 12 cents per gallon less than on May 22, 2012.

A total of 1,017,200 North Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home, with a drop in those flying to 59,900, down 5 percent from 63,100 last year. Other travel (bus, rail, maritime) is expected to remain flat at 60,000.

Wilmington has the state’s highest gas prices at $3.45 on average. North Carolina’s cheapest gas is in Boone and High Point, which are both at $3.37. The state average of $3.43 is the ninth lowest in the country.

North Carolina motorists will enjoy lower gas prices in South Carolina — currently the lowest in the country at $3.24; Tennessee ($3.28); and Virginia ($3.40), but slightly higher prices in Georgia ($3.46).

Trips are expected to be longer, up from 570 miles last year to 737 miles this year. Average national hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are up 4 percent to $166 per night, compared to $160 last year, while AAA Two Diamond hotels remain unchanged at $120 per night. Car rental rates will average $43 per day, up 19 percent from last year and the highest in the past four years.

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 to a recent study by 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.

• U.S. 1 just north of Southern Pines (Moore County) is reduced to one lane in each direction for construction of a new bridge.

• U.S. 158 (Elizabeth Street) in Elizabeth City is reduced to one lane in each direction over the Pasquotank River for resurfacing and construction of a new bridge.

• U.S. 17 Business in Jacksonville (Onslow County) is reduced to two-lane, two-way traffic on the Buddy Phillips Bridge over the New River for construction of a new bridge.

For the latest on construction delays, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website, 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.

To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.

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