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Roads to be crowded for the holidays
Milton Fortner rotates the tires on a customer’s car at Milton Martin Honda. The service department is busy this week helping customers get ready for out-of-town trips for the holidays. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

Things to check before leaving
- All fluids: Gasoline, oil, windshield wiper fluid, coolant
- Tire pressure, and don’t forget the spare
- All lights are working
- Drive belts for wear
- Windshield wipers, especially if rain/snow/ice is in destination forecast

Safety pointers
- Have a designated driver
- Leave plenty of time to get to your destination
- Use seat belts and child restraints
- Know your directions before you leave
- Pull off the road before using mobile devices
- Avoid following too closely
- Share travel plans with a friend or family member

If you’re planning to travel for Christmas or New Year’s, you can expect more people to be sharing the road with you.

AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays. That’s an increase of 1.6 percent from the 91.8 million people who traveled last year.

Although a AAA survey found 62 percent of Americans prefer to remain home for the holidays, roads still might be crowded, as 90 percent of travelers are forecast to travel by automobile, representing 26.7 percent of the total U.S. population.

Motorists should make sure their vehicles are ready before striking out on a long holiday road trip.

“There’s probably about a half-dozen things motorists should check,” said Curt Sloyer, service director at Milton Martin Honda. “They’re all real quick, simple things you can do.”

Checking fluids like oil is key along with making sure all lights are working and drive belts and windshield wiper blades are in good shape, he said.

“They need to check their tire pressures, and not just all four tires,” Sloyer said, “Check the spare also. People forget about the spare, and then they need to put it on and it’s flat.”

Planning ahead is also key, though.

“Probably the biggest thing we see is people plan on leaving Saturday morning, they bring the car in on Friday, and it needs a repair. That just puts a cloud over the holiday. (Don’t) wait until the last minute,” he said.

Local authorities also noted preparing vehicles for travel is important, but they also have other plans to help keep drivers safe.

“We’re currently working on Operation Zero Tolerance in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety,” said Gainesville Police Department spokesman Cpl. Kevin Holbrook.

Operation Zero Tolerance targets impaired drivers through concentrated patrols and sobriety checkpoints.

“We’ll also be doing our regular, routine patrols,” he said. “We will be out in force.

“As the holidays approach, many people tend to be thinking about their parties, their destinations, their celebrations,” Holbrook said, “and they’re not thinking about safety. They need to leave plenty of time to get to their destination.”

He stressed having a designated driver.

“This is a bad time of year for anyone to lose a loved one, and the last thing police want to be doing over the holidays is working a wreck, much less a fatal one.”

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office also will be doing more patrolling for the holidays, with the Traffic Enforcement Division shifting hours to the evenings and weekends, spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said.

They’ll focus on impaired drivers, too, including distracted drivers.

“One of the biggest things we see is a lack of planning. They haven’t got their directions down, so they’re relying on a GPS or a mobile phone to help with their directions, and that creates a situation where they’re distracted from their primary task, and that’s driving,” Wilbanks said.

He emphasized that texting while driving is against the law and drivers should pull to the side of the road before calling or texting.

“Not only is it the law not to text while driving, it’s just common sense,” he said

Holbrook also reminded motorists to use seat belts and child restraints.

“It’s not uncommon this time of year to see children in the cargo area of SUVs because people just want to take one vehicle, with the way (the price of) gas is now. If there’s not a seat belt there, nobody should be riding there.”

And people should let their friends and family know their plans so if they don’t show up on time, loved ones can start checking on them, Wilbanks said.