Driving home for the holidays? You’ll get there — eventually

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.

Road safety

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.

New Year’s Day, meanwhile, is the No. 1 holiday for vehicle thefts, according to the National Crime Information Center, with Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving coming in at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively.

Proper maintenance is key

Talk of safety may not matter if motorists don’t get their cars serviced, warned Art Jacobson, a director at CarMD. The average age of vehicles on the road is at an all-time high of 10.3 years.

“Most of these vehicles were designed to a 50,000 mile, 5-year durability standard,” he said. “When you consider average age increase, proper maintenance and upkeep on the vehicle is more critical than ever before.”

A recent CarMD.com survey found only half of those who’ve ever owned or leased a vehicle follow a regularly scheduled automotive maintenance program and one-quarter admit to stretching out time between services to save money. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 13 percent of vehicle accidents are caused by mechanical failure.

“Maintaining and replacing the systems on these vehicles as they age is absolutely necessary, and this process is particularly important during the holiday season and cold winter months,” he said.

Experts also recommend stocking your smartphone with apps that can help you stay on course during the holidays. Those include navigation systems that pinpoint traffic and let you steer around it (Magellan RoadMate, Navigon’s MobileNavigator and TomTom), avoid speed traps (PhantomAlert or Trapster) and find the closest rest area or attraction (AAA TripTik Mobile iPhone app).

All told, this could be a banner holiday for drivers, both in terms of numbers and in terms of numbers that survive it — as long as they take a few common sense precautions along the way.

(Photo: Kjell E son/Flickr Creative Commons)

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend