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AAA says gas prices and rising income will mean more cars on the road this week

If you’re planning any holiday travel by car this week, leave early and be prepared to move slowly.

AAA Carolinas estimates that more than 2 million Carolinians — 1.4 million North Carolinians and 688,500 South Carolinians — will drive 50 or more miles away from home for the Fourth of July.

Nationally, AAA expects almost 49 million Americans to take to the highways this week — the highest number AAA has ever recorded.

Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, attributed that number to relatively low gas prices, school being out for the summer and the holiday falling on a Thursday — many people, Wright said in a release, are likely to take a long weekend or the entire week off.

Further bolstering the wanderlust, AAA said, is a strong economy, low unemployment and rising disposable incomes.

That of course means that roads will be crowded and probably slow. AAA Carolinas estimated that drivers could face delays four times as long as normal commutes, with Wednesday, July 3, being the busiest. On the holiday itself, AAA predicts that 1.8 million people will be on the roads in the Carolinas — 1.2 million in North Carolina and 636,000 South Carolinia.

According to AAA’s gas price page, the average price for a gallon of gas in North Carolina on Monday was $2.564. That’s up 13 cents from a week ago, but still 9.5 cents less than last year, when a gallon of gas averaged $2.659. And it’s well ahead of the national average of $2.717.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation says it is pausing construction on major travel routes in the state this week and, where possible, will open closed traffic lanes from Wednesday morning through Friday evening.

Before you get in the car, you can check highway conditions along your route at the department’s travel site, DriveNC.gov.

NCDOT also points our that law enforcement will be increasing patrols over the holiday to crack down on drunk driving.

If that warning isn’t enough to keep you sober, try this: The Zebra, a website that studies and analyzes insurance rates, just released a study that estimates how much the 26 most-written traffic tickets will increase your premiums. A ticket for DUI, The Zebra estimates, will cost you $1,084 in additional premiums each year. For The Zebra’s “average driver” — a 30-year-old single male with a good driving record driving a 2014 Honda — that’s an increase of about 74%.

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And DUI isn’t the worst. Get caught in a hit-and-run and you could be looking at an additional $1,209 a year in premiums -- an increase of more than 82%.

Near the bottom of the list, a not-at-fault accident will only set you back about $98 a year, The Zebra estimates, though that will probably not provide much consolation while you’re waiting for the tow truck.

If you’ve planned ahead and purchased an airline ticket, you’ll also want to arrive early. AAA says 107,000 people will be flying in North Carolina and 65,000 will take to the air in South Carolina -- a total increase of 5.3% from last year.

Planning a bus ride, train trip or cruise? You’ll be one of a scant 76,000, according to AAA.

More than anything, be safe. According to AAA, there were 4,130 traffic crashes in North Carolina last Fourth of July -- about 200 more than the previous year -- and they left 19 people dead.

“We want to remind motorists to put away distractions behind the wheel and to adhere to the rules of the road,” Wright said in the release. “Be mindful of busier roads and pack your patience to avoid getting angry.”

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Laura Brummett is the Business News Intern for the News & Observer. She worked on the economic development beat at the Daily Tar Heel and previously interned with the Sanford Herald. She is majoring in Business Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill.
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