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Development & Transportation

With Low Gas Prices And Warm Weather, AAA Expects Record Number Of Holiday Drivers

Bert Kaufmann

Drivers hitting the road this holiday season will be far from alone. 

The American Automobile Association estimates there will be a record-breaking 100.5 million Americans traveling this season.

Of those travelers, 91.3 million will be driving. That's  a 1.4 percent increase from last year. According to AAA, holiday travel has been trending upward for seven consecutive years.

Chelsea Pompeani, public affairs director of AAA East Central region, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, West Virginia and Kentucky, said she expects responders to stay busy over the 12-day holiday.

“We are still expecting to rescue 31,000 motorists (in the region) from either dead batteries, flat tires or lockouts,” she said.  

Pompeani said even in a slow economy, holiday travel has continued to increase.

“Gas prices were at a low seven years ago, and then they started to creep up, especially when the recession hit," she said. "But that doesn’t take away from the fact that people still like to drive to their holiday destinations.”

She said most Americans choose to drive to their holiday destinations rather than buy a plane or train ticket due to prices at the pump.

“We’re expecting Christmas, and even New Year’s, that the national average is going to dip below $2 (per gallon) for the first time since 2009,” she said.

Pompeani said gas prices in the Pittsburgh market are $2.22 as of late-December. She added that gas here is usually more expensive than the national average and while prices will continue to decrease, she does not expect local prices to dip below $2 per gallon.

At this time last year, gas was $2.80 per gallon.

The comfort and flexibility of driving is important to holiday travelers as well, Pompeani added.

“It’s easier to fit the family in the car," she said. "Some people like to drive with their pets, as well. You’re kind of in control there, so you can stop when you want to. You can take breaks.”

This year, the unusually warm weather is also a reason many people are driving. 

“We have a very mild winter this year; we haven’t had any snow thus far," she said. "When the roads are nice like this and gas prices are low, that’s just even more reason to drive to your destination.”