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Plan Ahead to Stay Safe While Traveling for Thanksgiving

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2008 NY November 27 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (31)

Whether you travel by car, bus, train, and/or plane, Thanksgiving travel is expected to hit record levels. To stay safe, give yourself extra time, research weather conditions, wear seat belts, don’t drive while intoxicated, don’t use your cell phone while driving, and pay attention to the road.

Dr. Alison Tothy, the pediatric ER medical director at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told Fox News travel writer Eileen Ogintz that during the holidays people tend to let down their guard and that “maybe we don’t pay attention as closely because we are catching up with friends and family, and everyone is sleeping less, is more fatigued and, therefore, more accident prone.”

As Larry Copeland reports in USA TODAY:

Millions of Americans will drive to the annual holiday gathering next week — about 38.2 million, 90% of the 42.5 million expected to travel during the Thanksgiving week this year, according to AAA. That’s a 4% jump over 2010 and the first significant increase in travel of at least 50 miles for any holiday this year, the auto club says.

Based on all the metrics studied by groups ranging from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the Texas Transportation Institute and from Allstate Insurance to the National Motorists Association, certain areas emerge as places that drivers would do well to avoid — cities, states and stretches of roads that are notorious for making a trip tougher.

If you’re going to those areas to see family or friends, there are tactics to take to avoid problems. One way to stay ahead of traffic congestion is by accessing information. Tim Lomax, a research engineer at Texas A&M University who studies traffic congestion, told USA TODAY that using traffic apps on your smartphone (if you have one) can at least give you a sense of how far ahead the road is congested. And Copeland writes that Inrix (a Kirkland, Washington, firm that tracks traffic congestion) says holiday traffic backups will peak an hour earlier than normal rush hour, because people will be leaving work early. But the drive to work on Wednesday morning will be easier, as travelers tend to take the day off from work.

USA TODAY says that holiday traffic will be especially difficult in Washington, D.C., and gateway cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Hartford. Inrix suggests leaving home no later than 2 p.m. on Wednesday to avoid gridlock. And, if you can, plan to begin your travels on Thursday morning, Inrik’s Jim Bak said, because there is no traffic at that time.

Other locations to watch out for include:

  • The states with the worst roads, which MainStreet.com’s Greg Emerson says are: Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arkansas, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Alabama;
  • The 10 worst states for drivers, according to Forbes’ 2010 ratings (based on gas prices, insurance rates, infrastructure, safety, and legal protections): California, Illinois, New York, Michigan, Alaska, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Washington; and
  • The cities with the worst drivers, according to the 2011 Allstate America’s Best Driver’s Report: Washington; Baltimore; Glendale, California; Newark, New Jersey; Providence; Philadelphia; Hartford, Connecticut; Jersey City; San Francisco; and Alexandria, Virginia.
  • If your travels take you out of your area, you might want to research traffic laws in advance for the state or city you’re going to, so you don’t risk getting a ticket for something like speeding. Copeland reports that maximum penalties for driving over the speed limit are $2,500 in Illinois and Virginia, while they are $2,000 in Georgia and Nevada; $1,000 in Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, and North Carolina; $750 in Utah; and $625 in Iowa.

The holidays are “a prime time for stepped-up enforcement, especially with out-of-state drivers,” spokesman John Bowman of the Waunaukee, Wisconsin-based National Motorists Association, told USA TODAY. Bowman advises travelers to research laws regarding using cell phones while driving, as laws vary by locale and are changing all the time.

USA TODAY reports that Bowman suggests drivers check sites such as handsfreeinfo.com for information on cell phone laws, the NMA-sponsored sites speedtrap.org for updates on speed traps, and roadblock.org for real-time information on police checkpoints.

“We expect to see an increase in sobriety checkpoints around the holidays,” Bowman says. “It’s prime pickings for people who have been out socializing.”

If you’re feeling nostalgic or like delving into history, MSNBC features a cool timeline of holiday travel — called “Getting to Grandma’s” — from 1958 to 2008: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/45325084/ns/today-travel/t/getting-grandmas/#.Tsaq-XFXQVE

And here’s a traditional holiday song for the kids:

Image by Hans J E, used under its Creative Commons license.

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