CHARLOTTE — An estimated 884,000 North Carolina motorists — a 2.2-percent increase over last year — are expected to begin traveling Thursday as the summer travel season kicks off with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Today’s North Carolina average of $3.55 cents per gallon for regular, unleaded gasoline is a 36-cents a gallon drop since the April 6 peak 2012 price of $3.91. North Carolina’s average price is now 22 cents a gallon less than May 22, 2011.
“Sharply declining gasoline prices, a slight improvement in the economy and a desire to spend the holiday with family and friends means more vehicles on the road this year,” said David E. Parsons, CEO and president of AAA Carolinas.
A total of 1,007,100 North Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home, with a drop in those flying to 63,100 (down 5.7 percent) from 67,000 last year. Other travel (bus, rail, maritime) is expected to remain the same at 60,000.
Boone has the state’s highest prices at $3.76 on average. North Carolina’s cheapest gas is in High Point at $3.45, and the state average of $3.55 is the 10th lowest in the United States. South Carolina currently has the nation’s lowest average price for a gallon of regular unleaded at $3.34.
Trips are expected to be shorter, down from 730 round trip miles last year to 570 this year. Average national hotel rates are up 8 percent to $160 a night compared to $148 last year; daily car rental rates are down 4 percent to $36 from $38 last year.
Two-thirds (65 percent) of travelers said they expect to visit with friends and relatives and 69 percent say they expect to dine out. The beach will attract 48 percent of the travelers, 37 percent expect to do some shopping and 19 percent will visit a theme or amusement park.
Gas prices have been steadily declining in North Carolina since early April and are expected to continue to do so in the next several weeks due to abundant supplies, a weak Euro due to financial uncertainty in the European Union, slower economic growth in China and no oil-related threats in the Mid-East.
“We might see a slight stabilization in gas prices, or even a mild increase over the weekend, but prices should continue to drop well into June, unless some unforeseen event occurs,” said Parsons.
The start of Memorial Day begins the “100 deadliest days” for teen drivers, with seven of the 10 most deadly days of the year occurring between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The biggest contributor to those fatal accidents are passengers in the car and AAA recommends parents discuss this and other driver distraction issues, like texting, with their teens, especially 16- and 17-old drivers.
Hotel bookings are up 11 percent over last Memorial Day and Carolinians have reserved roughly 18 percent more rental cars than this holiday last year, according to AAA Carolinas, operator of the largest leisure travel agency in the Carolinas. AAA Carolina members have requested 6 percent more Internet TripTiks® compared to the same time period last year.
Most construction projects along interstate, N.C. and U.S. routes will be suspended beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 25, until 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 29.
For the latest on construction delays go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation website. Click on Travel and Maps and then on the Traveler Information Management System for up-to-date traffic information relating to closed travel lanes, traffic accidents or expected congestion due to sporting events, like Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race this weekend.
The Memorial Day holiday survey data begins Thursday, May 24 and ends Sunday May 27. Survey data is taken from AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, AAA/HIS Global Insight holiday travel forecast and AAA Carolinas data.