Number of holiday trips by car to set record

By the time 2014 arrives, more people will have traveled by car in the Northwest over the holiday season than ever before, according to AAA Washington.

The travel organization forecast 94.4 million car trips over the winter holiday season. Last year, the total was 94 million.

The increase is small but significant, said Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman for AAA Washington, which is headquartered in Bellevue.

The Auto Club based its projection on a survey taken last month, in which drivers were asked about their travel plans for the period from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1.

Despite the high volume, there’s more breathing room than the Thanksgiving travel period or other holiday weekends.

“It isn’t like Thanksgiving, when everybody is on the road at the same time, from Thursday to Sunday,” Cook said.

People are expected to put an average of 805 miles on their cars, up 45 miles from last year’s 760.

Drivers not only shop and visit friends and family, but visit local attractions such as the Warm Beach Camp’s Lights of Christmas.

“It’s the biggest one in Snohomish County, near Stanwood,” Cook said.

The state Department of Transportation has a webpage, www.wsdot.com/traffic, with up to date travel conditions.

More travelers are choosing to drive rather than fly, she said. That’s why airfares are down an average of $5, she said.

“People tend to drive more when the (cost of) gas goes down,” Cook said.

Car trouble in cold and wet weather is common. The Auto Club helps an average of 15,400 drivers on roadsides during the holidays, she said. During the recent cold snap, 25 percent of assistance calls were for dead batteries.

Flat tires, lockouts and broken car keys are among other common requests for help.

Drivers should carry a winter driving kit that includes blankets and warm clothing, jumper cables, abrasive material such as sand or cat litter (or traction mats and a small shovel), ice/snow scraper and tire chains, Cook said.

State Trooper Inci Yarkut advises drivers to stay home in bad weather if they don’t need to go out.

“We always say ‘slow down, take your time,’” she said.

She cautioned holiday revelers who have been drinking to take a cab home or sleep over.

Police patrols are out in force looking to get intoxicated drivers off the road.

“You can definitely expect to see the police everywhere,” on city roads as well as freeways, Yarkut said.

“There are places I would rather spend my holiday season than jail,” she said. “It is not a place you want to go back.”

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