SIKESTON -- Despite record-high fuel prices for a holiday, AAA predicts the Memorial Day weekend will be the biggest traveling period yet.
Approximately 31.1 million American travelers (84 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 2.2 percent increase from the 30.5 million who drove a year ago, according to a survey conducted for the automobile association.
In terms of fuel prices, Missouri's doing quite well, noted Michael Right, vice president of public affairs for the AAA Missouri Club site in St. Louis.
"Right now the average price for gas in Missouri is $1.93 compared to $1.94 the same time last year. The national average is $2.11," Right said Wednesday.
Currently Missouri's average gas price is the lowest in the nation with only a handful of other states offering fuel at less than $2 a gallon, Right said. In Sikeston, gas prices Wednesday were around $1.80 per gallon.
Not only do the low prices help if traveling in-state this weekend, but if people are traveling outside of the state, they can fill their tanks before leaving, Right noted.
In fact, many public fears of the cost of leisure traveling are beginning to disappear, Right pointed out.
"The economy is in better shape this year than last, and consumer confidence has improved, and people just feel better about their personal finance situations than last year," Right reasoned.
In addition to traveling America's highways, air travelers will generally be paying less to fly this weekend. AAA's Leisure Travel Index shows flights over the holiday weekend averaging 10 percent less this year than last year. Rental car rates will be down about 4 percent. These savings will be offset by higher hotel rates, though -- up 10 percent from a year ago.
AAA estimates that 37.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a 2.2 percent increase from last year.
"We're expecting a lot of people out first holiday for summer and a lot of travel and trying to get word out, wear seat belts, don't drink and drive, pay attention," said Sgt. Cody Fulkerson of Troop E of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Last year in Missouri, 15 people died and 573 were injured in 1,300 traffic crashes over Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Fulkerson said if motorists would drive sensibly, give themselves plenty of time, not drink and drive and wear their seat belts, it would help reduce the number of injuries and fatalities tremendously.
"We sound like a broken record every year," Fulkerson admitted. "And people still wait until the last minute (to travel) and they push the speed limit or drive when they're tired and when drinking."
Last year during the holiday weekend inattention, speeding and failing to yield the right-of-way were the leading contributing factors to traffic crashes, the Patrol reports.
"There's no magic formula to arrive alive at your destinations -- it's the basic things you were taught when you got your license," Fulkerson said.
Once again the Patrol is participating in the national "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign from now through June 5. It's also conducting Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort), which means every officer will be on the road enforcing traffic laws and assisting motorists.
This year's fatality counting period for the holiday begins at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday. Troopers will focus their attention on seat belt use, use of child safety seats, drinking and driving and speeding.
"It sounds so simple -- and the fact is it really is, if people would just do the things we ask," Fulkerson said. "It comes down to each individual driver and how responsible they're willing to be."