Every holiday this year has seen an increase in travelers, and the upcoming holiday period is expected to be no different, according to AAA.
Dec. 23 and 26 are predicted to be the most traveled days this holiday period, with heavy traffic continuing through the New Year’s holiday, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. With increased travelers, law enforcement officials urge students to be more cautious on the road and provide tips for keeping their homes safe while they're out of town.
“No. 1, slow down,” said Lt. Jameson Presley of the Auburn Police Division. “In hazardous weather especially — like rain.”
Along with speed, drivers should eliminate distractions such as texting and loud music, designating those tasks to a passenger if they aren't traveling alone.
The Southeast is almost always the busiest travel region of the country, said Clay Ingram, public relations and marketing manager for AAA Alabama.
The region, Ingram said, is more weather conducive, doesn’t have as much quality public transportation and receives traffic from people passing through the area on the way to their destination.
Last year’s yearend travelers exceed 100 million nationwide, a record high, and Ingram predicted this holiday travel period could show an even larger number of travelers.
Low fuel prices affect the amount of drivers on the road as well. Alabama’s average regular gas price is $2.04 compared to last year’s $1.83 average, according to AAA. The national average is $2.20.
But with more travelers comes a higher risk of accidents. 2016 has seen a “pretty significant” increase in traffic fatalities, said Cpl. Jess Thornton of ALEA. Troopers have investigated 620 traffic fatalities in the state so far this year — 140 more than the same time last year, he said.
ALEA investigated 14 traffic deaths during the Thanksgiving travel period, which began 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 23 and ended at midnight Nov. 27. Last year there were 10.
Over the same travel period, troopers investigated 419 traffic crashes, resulting in 204 injuries, said ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler in a press release.
AAA projected 48.7 million people would travel 50 miles or more from home for Thanksgiving, an increase of 1 million people from last year.
“Common sense will tell you that the more traffic that you have the more crashes you’re going to have,” Thornton said.
Last Christmas and New Year’s travel period — which ran from 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 18 to midnight on Jan. 1 — troopers investigated 26 traffic fatalities, according to ALEA.
Thornton echoed Presley’s road safety tips while also urging people to be defensive drivers and wear their seatbelts. Over 60 percent of traffic fatalities in the state involved a passenger who was not wearing a seatbelt, he noted.
“Pay attention to your surroundings is a big thing,” Thornton added. Troopers will be watching for the top violations that contribute to crashes with injury and fatality: speeding, driving under the influence, failure to yield and texting while driving, Thornton said.
Though Thornton points to insufficient troopers working as one reason for the high amount of traffic accidents, ALEA will have additional patrols during the holiday travel period because of grant funding from the Alabama Department of Transportation and Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
But students also need to take precautions before they leave to keep their homes safe during the break.
Students should plan to take electronics, jewelry and firearms with them when they leave their homes, Presley said.
“If you can’t take those items with you, make sure that you log the serial numbers down ... also take photographs of them if possible,” he said. “That helps us track those items if they are stolen.”
During Christmastime, Presley noted, people are more likely to try to steal items from student housing because most students leave for the holiday.
If all roommates leave for the break, Presley said to lock all doors and windows before leaving, place lights on timers and leave a talk radio show running.
He also suggests asking neighbors and friends to periodically check on the apartment or house.
“You can also call the police department’s patrol secretary and ask for a house check,” he added. Officers will check the home while you’re gone over the break. “That’s the best thing to do.”