CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A record number of South Carolinians – 1,322,000 – will travel 50 miles or more for the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, according to AAA Carolinas.
Travel volume represents an increase of 22,000 total travelers compared to last year. An estimated 1,196,500, or 90.5% of total travelers, plan to drive to their destination.
The 12-day Christmas/New Year’s travel holiday is defined as Saturday, Dec. 21, through Wednesday, Jan. 1, which is one day longer than the travel period last year. The year-end holiday ranges from 10 to 13 days, and volume often increases relative to length.
“As the longest holiday travel period of the year, the Christmas/New Year’s holiday is also one of the deadliest,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “Drivers should buckle up and avoid drinking and driving, speeding and texting behind the wheel.”
Last year, 21 people died on South Carolina roads during the year-end holiday travel period; eight of those who died weren’t wearing a seat belt.
South Carolina gas prices currently average $3.07, slightly higher than the year-ago price of $3.03. After falling to a year-low of $3.03 on Nov. 14, prices rose to $3.17 on Nov. 27, but have fallen steadily since then. Prices are expected to continue the downward trend through the end of the year due to rising supplies and increased refinery production.
Motorists can find the cheapest gasoline in South Carolina in Spartanburg at $3.01 a gallon and the most expensive gas in Charleston at $3.17. Drivers will see higher prices in North Carolina at $3.23, Virginia at $3.15 and Georgia at $3.17 and slightly lower prices in Tennessee at $3.06.
An estimated 72,700 South Carolinians will fly to their destinations, accounting for 5.5% of travelers, and 52,800 or 4% will use another mode of transportation, such as train, bus or boat.
Airfares are down 3% from a year ago, averaging $199 for the top 40 U.S. routes. However, travelers will see higher car rental rates, up 13% to $63 per day compared to $55 per day last year.
Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond hotels average $138, down 3% from last year, while AAA Two Diamond hotels average $102, up 1% from a year ago.
South Carolina travelers are expected to log an average trip of 965 miles from home, a significant increase from 765 miles last year.
Drunk driving is always a major problem during this travel period with holiday parties often held between Christmas and New Year’s. Drivers are advised to secure a designated driver or call a cab if they are planning to consume alcohol. In 2012, 41% of traffic fatalities in South Carolina involved a drunk driver.
South Carolina’s “Sober or Slammer!” campaign, which runs Dec. 13 through Jan. 1, includes public safety checkpoints and enhanced enforcement efforts to find and arrest anyone driving while impaired.
After 11 months, traffic fatalities are trending sharply downward this year in both North and South Carolina, as well as nationally.
As of Dec. 1, South Carolina’s fatal crashes declined 11.9% from 787 to 695, and alcohol-related fatalities dropped more than 35%. During the same 11 months, North Carolina saw a 7.8% drop year-to-date from 1,227 traffic deaths to 1,115, including a decline of 118 alcohol-involved traffic deaths.
Traffic safety officials in both states credit the drop to more intense patrolling of high-crash corridors; checkpoints and crackdowns on drunk drivers, unbuckled drivers and passengers; stricter speed-limit enforcement; and a decline in vehicle miles traveled.
During the holiday travel period, unexpected weather or vehicle problems may leave motorists stranded this holiday season and inclement weather is possible. AAA Carolinas recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car that includes:
- Mobile phone and car charger
- Blankets and flashlight with extra batteries
- A first aid kit
- Drinking water and non-perishable snacks
- Small shovel and sack of sand or cat litter for traction
- Windshield scraper
- Battery booster cables
- Plastic emergency triangle reflectors
The South Carolina Department of Transportation generally prohibits lane closures on interstates and high-volume multi-lane routes from 6 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20, through 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3.
Survey data is taken from AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.
To estimate fuel costs, travelers can go to www.fuelcostcalculator.com to input starting city, destination, and the make and model of their car.