Despite higher gasoline, hotel and airline prices, more Americans are expected to hit the road or fly for the Thanksgiving holiday in the largest numbers since before the pandemic, according to AAA.

Some 2.6 million Floridians are expected to travel by car.

“Since many Floridians were unable to travel last year, it’s unlikely that higher gas prices will keep them from hitting the holiday road in 2021,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA — The Auto Club Group.

Florida drivers are going to find the most expensive Thanksgiving gas prices since 2013; the average fill-up will cost $50 for a 15-gallon tank. That’s $13 more than what Thanksgiving drivers paid pre-pandemic in 2019, according to AAA.

“High gas prices are not something drivers will be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” said Jenkins. “The good news is that gas prices should gradually decline through the holiday. Crude oil and gasoline futures dropped last week, and that should restore some downward pressure on prices at the pump.”

He added, “Gas prices do not typically make the difference of whether Floridians will or will not travel. However, they could impact how far some are willing to drive, while others may need to reallocate more of their travel budget to gasoline, and spend less on meals, shopping and dining out,” he said.

This year’s forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005, bringing travel volumes close to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Despite gasoline costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, 90% of people plan to travel by car as their preferred mode of transportation. Although the car is still the most popular choice for travelers, others will opt to travel by air and other modes such as bus, train or cruise this year.

The state average price for gasoline jumped 10 cents last week, reaching $3.36 per gallon. That’s the highest daily average price since September 2014.

On Tuesday the average price for regular unleaded gasoline in Charlotte County was $3.33; DeSoto County saw an average price of $3.329, and Sarasota’s average price for regular gas was $3.358, according to AAA.

Usually the Punta Gorda metro market, which encompasses all of Charlotte County, has the lowest prices in the state, but now the lowest gasoline prices are in the Panhandle and northern Florida: Crestview and Fort Walton Beach’s average price for regular came in at $3.248.

While there isn’t a lot people can do about higher gas prices, there are some ways drivers can get the most for their money, according to AAA:

• Pay in cash. Some gasoline retailers charge a few cents per gallon more for customers who pay with a credit card.

• Shop around. Oftentimes retailers with the most expensive gas prices are located near airports, attractions and interstate on/off ramps.

• Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained. Not only can poor vehicle maintenance lead to car trouble, it also reduces fuel economy. Tire pressure, motor oil and air filters all can affect your vehicle’s fuel consumption.

• Consider car pooling, combining errands, or driving the most fuel efficient vehicle.

• Remove excess weight. The heavier your vehicle, the harder your engine has to work.

• Drive conservatively. Speeding and heavy acceleration burns gasoline faster.

AAA offers free service for impaired drivers

Since 1998, AAA Tow to Go has removed more than 25,000 impaired drivers from the road. Tow to Go is available Wednesday through Monday in select locations. When called, a tow truck transports the impaired driver and their vehicle to a safe place within a 10-mile radius, for free.

“AAA is proud to bring back this life-saving program this Thanksgiving,” said Jenkins.

“Now as millions of Americans get behind the wheel this holiday weekend, none of them will have an excuse for driving impaired. However, we still strongly encourage people to plan ahead and identify a safe ride home, and treat Tow to Go as their last resort.”

Tow to Go is available from 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 24, through 6 a.m. Monday, Nov. 29.

Areas served, in addition to Florida, are Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Colorado (Denver), North Carolina (Charlotte), and Indiana (Fort Wayne/South Bend).

Call (855) 2-TOW-2-GO or (855) 286-9246.

A face mask is required in accordance with established COVID-19 safety protocols. Additional passengers need to make other arrangements.

Incidents of impairment

According to national data from NHTSA, there were 10,142 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes involving drivers impaired by alcohol in all of 2019. Of those fatalities, 417 occurred during the Thanksgiving holiday.

From November — December 2020, there were 1,052 crashes involving alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both in Florida — according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and motor Vehicles. In addition, there were 5,442 DUI citations issued across the state.

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