There’s good news and bad news for motorists this holiday season.
America’s roads have never been safer, statistics show. But, depending where you live, they may never be slower.
“The big new trend this year is the construction,” said Carol White, co-author of “Live Your Road Trip Dream.” “With all the TARP funds rolling out on highway projects, last summer was a mess, and I think it is going to continue into the winter months in areas where weather permits.”
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government has spent $27 billion for highway and bridge construction in the last two years.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, America will find itself in the middle of the stimulus construction during the holidays. Of the 13,300 road construction projects, more than 6,100 are under construction and more than 5,800 projects have been completed, the agency says.
Sticking to the road
“The unemployment rate remains relatively high, so it’s likely people will be out driving in larger volumes,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Edmunds.com. Brauer and other travel experts say the number of people opting to drive instead of fly could be significantly higher than the 88 percent recorded for the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holiday.
The price of fuel is relatively affordable. AAA expected the national average price for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline to remain between $2.85 and $2.95 during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.
Meanwhile, air travel hassles are spurring more Americans to travel by car. In November, the Transportation Security Administration made three important changes to the way it handles security:
• It began enforcing its name matching requirements for airline tickets. Passengers now have to provide their full name as it appears on government-issued ID, date of birth and gender, when they book a flight.
• The government banned printer cartridges from luggage after a terrorism scare involving cargo.
• TSA imposed several new screening measures, including an enhanced pat-down protocol for air travelers who opt out of the full-body scanners.
Cheryl McCartey, who is retired from the military, said she decided to stop flying altogether when she heard about the full-body scans. “I understand the need for the metal detectors — even for the modified pat down — but in no way will I allow anyone to humiliate me while uttering the words ‘national security’,” she said.
Fortunately, America’s roads are safer than ever. But experts warn that we shouldn’t take it for granted.
The fatality and injury data for 2009 put the number of highway deaths — 33,808, or 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled — at the lowest rate since 1950, according to the Transportation Department.
If the trend holds, then the 2010 holiday driving season should be equally safe, experts say.
However, winter holidays are among the deadliest driving holidays. Over the past three years, Thanksgiving has been the deadliest, according to data supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. New Year’s Day and Christmas come in at Nos. 4 and 5 on the list.