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40 million ready to leave home for holiday travel

Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Independence Day travel could draw an estimated 40.8 million Americans away from home on what experts dub the nation's deadliest holiday on the roads.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety last week reported that driving fatalities claimed more than 670 people on July 4 from 2007 to 2011. Teens were four times more likely to crash than any other age group, a statistic Julia Reusch, an Allstate spokeswoman, attributed largely to texting behind the wheel.

Peak travel from Wednesday to Sunday could be down slightly this year, according to AAA estimates, compared to the same six-day travel period in 2012.

AAA East Central President Jim Lehman called the dip normal for years with a shorter celebratory period.

“We are still seeing an overall upward trend from the decade low of 29.8 million July 4th travelers in 2009,” he said.

Law enforcement statewide pledged to set up checkpoints and roving patrols for drunken drivers. From June 29 to July 8 of last year, PennDOT recorded 355 alcohol-related crashes and 20 fatalities. From weekend to weekend in 2011, officers worked 325 crashes, including 14 fatalities.

Gas prices are unlikely to be a major factor in travel decisions this holiday, AAA said. By mid-June, prices were up an average of 2 percent compared to the same time in 2012 but still below this year's high. The average price of gasoline in Pittsburgh is $3.535 a gallon, slightly higher than the statewide and national averages of $3.451 and $3.496 a gallon, respectively, according to GasBuddy.com.

JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, encouraged air travelers to arrive at least two hours prior to takeoff from Pittsburgh International Airport.

“It's very busy here — a lot of vacations, a lot of business travel,” she said, “especially in our peak periods from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., but our people are used to working at the airport when everyone else wants to be off. It won't lighten up until September.”

Airlines for America, a Washington-based trade group, forecast a record number of passengers flying internationally, including 3.07 million in the U.S. alone. AAA said airfares stateside increased 6 percent from last year.

Pennsylvania Turnpike officials pledged to keep all lanes clear of construction through July 8, while the state's Fish and Boat Commission reminded people flocking to waterways that conservation officers are patrolling through the summer boating season. In 2012, authorities arrested 60 people on suspicion of boating under the influence.

Terry Brady, spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said state parks anticipate crowds following the rainy June weather.

“Our campgrounds are pretty locked up in reservations this weekend, about comparable to last year, but that's because so many people reserve early,” he said. “That was the case with Memorial Day, too, and that weekend (weather) was lousy.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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