Low gas prices make early Christmas gift for travelers

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 24, 2012

SALISBURY — This holiday travel season, local drivers say they’re glad to have a few more dollars in their stockings.
The average price of gas in North Carolina is $3.25, down 60 cents since peaking in mid-September and down 6 cents from the pre-Thanksgiving holiday average.
At some Salisbury fuel stations Monday, the cost of regular unleaded gasoline was as low as $3.14.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Zane Robertson, of Faith. “I think it’s the best thing that Santa Claus could have brought for these people traveling long distances.”
Robertson filled her gas tank Monday at the Sheetz station in Salisbury. She said she’s staying close to home this year, but in the past, she and her husband have driven to Kentucky to visit family.
“We know several people who are traveling,” she said. “In fact, we had one couple coming to see us last night from North Dakota. It’s a 22-hour drive, so they were thrilled about gas being down.”
Salisbury resident Richard Compton said the lower prices are a “welcome relief,” but he still finds himself looking around for the cheapest place to fill up.
“I mean, from $3.14 to $3.19, every little bit helps,” he said. “In this economy, you have to pinch pennies.”
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The cost of gasoline tends to hit its low every winter due to seasonal changes, said Tom Crosby, spokesman for AAA Carolinas. But there are a few other factors helping it along this year. That includes cheaper crude oil prices, global economic concerns and lower demand as frugal drivers spend less time on the road.
“It has been the lowest we’ve seen since early last year; however, it has gone up a little bit, by a couple of cents in the past week,” Crosby said. “It usually goes up a little bit between Christmas and New Year’s because of the extra travel.”
Matt Clark, of Salisbury, said he was filling up Monday for a Christmas Day drive to see family in West Virginia.
He said he hopes to avoid the Christmas traffic because he’s leaving later than most people do, and he won’t be coming back until Thursday or Friday.
“It was nice to see the gas prices fall last week, because I knew I’d be leaving tomorrow afternoon,” Clark said. “It would be really nice to see them fall a little bit lower.”
Gas prices are expected to remain stable or slightly decrease over the holidays, according to AAA Carolinas, due to lower demand and high inventories.
Crosby said it’s hard to say how long gas prices will stay at this level, how low they will go or when they’ll start to rise again.
“If our economy starts picking up, generally speaking, the prices will go up as we begin to consume more and begin to drive more,” Crosby said. “If we continue to have a stagnant economy, prices will certainly not increase as quickly as they did last year in January and April.”
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During this holiday travel period, from Dec. 22 through Jan. 1, nearly 2.8 million North Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home, according to AAA Carolinas.
Of those travelers, 90 percent (2.5 million) will drive, 6 percent (167,000) will fly and 4 percent (111,000) will travel by other means, such as train, bus or boat.
“It’s the busiest time only because of the length,” Crosby said. “There is more traffic over a shorter number of days at Thanksgiving.”
This holiday is also one of the deadliest of the year, AAA Carolinas says.
Last year, 56 people died on North Carolina roads during the year-end holiday travel period, an average of 5.1 traffic fatalities per day. This represents a 42 percent increase from the average 3.6 daily traffic fatalities during the rest of the year.
Especially during the holiday party season, people are advised to have a designated driver or call a cab if they are planning to consume alcohol. Crosby also advised drivers to be cautious on the roads and to be prepared for other vehicles to make unexpected moves.
“We always see problems with people speeding, and that’s the number one contributing factor to accidents during holidays,” Crosby said. “When you’re in this kind of situation over the holidays, you need to have patience.”
Zane agreed Monday, recalling her own experiences with aggressive drivers on holiday trips to Kentucky.
“I know some people have to wait until they get off work to start,” she said. “But when you know you’re going to travel, try to leave a couple hours earlier. Just think ahead.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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