OTTUMWA — If you’re planning on hitting the roads this holiday season, you’re not alone.
AAA is estimating that more than 55 million travelers will be making a trek of 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving, with Wednesday being projected as the heaviest traffic day of the week.
“That’s when the travelers will be mixing with the commuters,” said Rose White, public affairs director with AAA Auto Club Group based in Omaha, Nebraska. She said this year is the 11th straight year of rising numbers, with the Thanksgiving travel period running Tuesday through Sunday.
That’s when the Iowa State Patrol will start preparing for extra travelers as well. “The state patrol will certainly increase our presence as it relates to holiday travel,” said Trooper Jason Marlow, a public resource officer for ISP District 13 in Mt. Pleasant, with extra troopers on the road beginning Tuesday. “The heavier presence will likely last through Sunday.”
He agrees that the heaviest travel day of the week tends to be Wednesday, but he also shared concerns about increased volume for Black Friday.
Even though shopping has become less mobile with the increase in online shopping, there are still plenty of drivers out on the road traveling to their shopping destinations.
“The Black Friday timeframe definitely sees an increased amount of traffic in Iowa, for sure,” he said.
In order to keep travels safe, both White and Marlow urged preparation.
White said AAA predicts nearly 368,000 travelers will be calling the organization for assistance this week, with the most common issues being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.
“All of those issues can be avoided by making sure they’re prepared,” White said, by doing routine car maintenance and making sure you have a reliable spare tire. “The first thing is making sure your vehicle is ready.” She also urged getting plenty of rest the night before traveling.
“Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving,” she said.
For Marlow and the ISP, “We focus our efforts any day of the year on things that lead to crashes,” including speeding, passing in no-passing zones and stop light and stop sign violations as well as impaired driving. He said there is also an increase of emphasis on distracted driving and motorists “unable to put that phone down.”
“The passenger in the front seat should be the co-pilot,” White said. “They should serve as the driver’s second eyes, watching road signs and looking for obstructions ahead.”
They should also, particularly in construction zones, refrain from discussions that might distract the driver from what’s ahead of them on the road.
But the big thing this time of year is the unpredictable weather.
“This is the time of year we start to see some of those changes in temperatures and weather systems,” Marlow said.
“We all know in the Midwest the weather can change on a dime,” White said. “The main thing at this time of year is just be prepared for inclement weather and pack an emergency kit.”
She said a kit would include something to keep passengers warm, basic items for minor mechanical repairs, a tire change kit, emergency food items, flashlights and a power bar for your cellphone.
Marlow suggested looking at the forecast a couple of days ahead of time to look at what possible weather conditions might arise and plan accordingly.
“When people plan ahead of time, often it makes their travel a bit more successful and helps them make up their mind if they HAVE to go at that time,” he said.
White also suggested letting those at your destination know what route you plan on taking and an estimated time of arrival. That gives them the ability to call and check if things are OK if you are running behind.
Both Marlow and White also suggested using the aid of apps to help plan your routes. White said apps are available that can take a look at weather and road conditions. The AAA mobile app also offers routing services and weather alerts for members based on their ZIP codes.
Marlow said the Iowa Road Conditions site, www.511ia.org, is a helpful tool travelers can utilize. “It is beneficial for travelers because it gives the most current and accurate weather conditions throughout the state in a fairly simple format. There are options to personalize your travel plans as well,” he said.
If all that preparation fails and you find yourself on the side of the road, there are ways to stay safe.
“The main thing is to get off the roadway to a safe area away from the traffic, and put your hazard lights on, of course,” said White. “Keeping the passengers safe is your primary area of concern. If you’re in a dangerous situation, you may even want to contact the police and ask them to provide you with assistance” until further help arrives.
She also emphasized staying off cellphone while driving and to make sure all items in the vehicle are secured. “In a crash, anything not secured becomes a projectile,” she said.
“If all that other stuff fails,” Marlow said, “buckling your seat belt is going to be your best option to avoid injuries and survive a possible crash. That moment to when a crash could potentially occur, you’re not going to have time to buckle that seat belt, so do it just in case.”