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GRIDLOCK GUY: Holiday travel primer - when to travel and the biggest risks

With Thanksgiving just days away, the holiday travel season begins. Travel costs influence whether families drive or fly, but AAA is not anticipating inflation will take commuters out of circulation. In fact, the travel organization anticipates that this will be the third-highest traveled Thanksgiving since 2000. There is no such thing as tele-feasting on Zoom.

With so many on the roads and driving in unfamiliar places, AAA predicts, like clockwork, the lunch to late afternoon hours on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Turkey Day are the busiest travel times leaving for the holiday. They also say Sunday afternoon is the busiest window for traveling home, by air or auto.

AAA also says that plenty of people make last minute lunges for the dinner table in the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. time slot on Thanksgiving Day.

So when should people drive? Early in the morning or late at night on any day, to or from, is a time when the volume is light. GDOT suspends scheduled road work during each holiday weekend, eliminating those obstacles.

Drivers do have to weigh the cost of changing their entire schedules to avoid sitting in an hour or two (or far less) of extra backups. Waiting six hours at home to avoid sitting in two hours of gridlock only makes sense if the bad traffic causes that much stress or fuel burn.

Another cost to consider is the risk of driving while impaired by drowsiness. White-knuckling a drive late at night to extend a trip or beat the traffic could end up costing way more than the supposed benefits. While intoxicated driving is a major issue during any holiday, an overlooked mistake is drowsy-driving. The same weaving, dulled alertness, and half-opened eyes happen under both the influence of substances or fatigue. We should treat them with the same alarm and moral outrage.

If a driver starts fighting the heavy eyelids, they should pull over and either appoint another legal driver or dish out the money for a hotel.

Distracted driving is another holiday driving danger. People fiddling with their turn-by-turn directions, texting out an ETA, or just turning and hushing the kids are all distracted. One ill timed attention lapse can change lives. The holidays provide so many distractions and we need to do our best to purge them before assuming driving responsibilities.

Driver-education firm Zutobi listed Thanksgiving as the deadliest driving holiday, with over 2,400 deaths in the U.S. from 2017 to 2021. Christmas is only fifth on the list. One reason is because Thanksgiving has such a concentrated travel period and the rush is on to make the one-day festivities on time. The stress, the pressure, the tight windows, the unfamiliar commutes - all of those swirl in with distracted and impaired driving to create this deadly brew.

A report by LendingTree, which has an auto insurance branch, finds fatal crashes and pedestrian fatalities rise in the winter months in the U.S. Distractions, recklessness, and impairment are all listed as factors, but weather is also worse in the winter. Bad weather causes more wrecks. Less hours of daylight is also another risk factor.

To recap, drivers that want to avoid peak Thanksgiving travel jams should stay off the roads in the afternoons on the days of, before, and during Turkey Day. Drivers should weigh the cost of delaying trips or driving at night. And driving during Thanksgiving is more dangerous than other holidays in recent years, because of impaired, distracted, and drowsy drivers.

Drivers can control when they leave and how alert they are when they do. If more took that kind of ownership, the road environment would be safer and more efficient for everyone.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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