Prior to Hurricane Katrina, AAA forecasted the record high gas prices wouldn't cause a drop off in the Labor Day holiday. Now officials with the automobile association are saying the prediction probably won't be reflective of actuality.
"That survey was taken long before we saw the dramatic increase in gas prices," said Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for Missouri's AAA Club, Wednesday afternoon.
Right said he's already heard from people who are canceling preplanned trips -- even trips that were within driving distance.
On Wednesday prices in St. Louis hit the $3-mark for a gallon of unleaded fuel, Right said. By this morning the current price of regular unleaded fuel in Sikeston ranged from $2.99 to $3.09 per gallon.
Katrina will have a significant impact on travel -- and not only with gas prices, but hotel accommodations and many destinations, too, Right said.
Major cruise ports at Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans will definitely be affected, noted John Harper, owner of Harper's Travel Service in Sikeston. And airline fares will rise due to the increasing fuel costs, he added.
Although Harper agreed the fuel prices will impact everyone, he doesn't think they will stop Missouri motorists, at least this weekend anyway.
"I think people will still go in spite of it now, but they're going to clamp down," Harper said.
Originally AAA reported towns/rural areas topped the list of preferred destinations this holiday with 23 percent of the travel volume. Oceans/beach remains strong for summer's last holiday with 21 percent. Cities rank next followed by mountain areas, lake areas and parks.
Sgt. Ralph Bledsoe, public information director for Missouri Water Patrol, said people will still be on the lakes and travel will be heavy this weekend.
"A lot of families realize this is the last vacation they can take and will go to the lakes. So we do expect it to be busy," Bledsoe said.
Because of the higher gas prices, motorists will not travel as far so they'll usually stay within the state since the holiday is actually shorter, Bledsoe said. The Water Patrol encourages drivers to be conscious of alcohol consumption, Bledsoe said. In nearly 50 percent of the fatal boating accidents, alcohol impairment of the operator was a primary factor in the accident.
Boaters need to be alert and conscious of what's going on around them, Bledsoe said.
"Many times when there's no alcohol involved in an accident, it's because someone made a mistake, and it cost them," Bledsoe said. "So you need to stay alert, pay attention to the boating traffic around you and slow down."
Accidents can happen quickly, Bledsoe reminded, adding that's why it's a good idea to wear a life jacket at all times on the water.
"Also if you're wearing a life jacket, it sets a good example for the kids," Bledsoe pointed out.
Boaters should also make sure their navigational lights are working properly if they will be operating their boats after dark, Bledsoe advised.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol also encourages safety over the holiday weekend. It will have all of its available officers patrolling highways this weekend.
The Labor Day counting period will begin at 6 p.m. Friday and end at 11:59 p.m. Monday. Once again the Missouri State Highway Patrol along with local law enforcement, will participate in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort).
Last year 20 people were killed and 563 persons were injured in 1,210 traffic crashes during the Labor Day holiday counting period.
"The Patrol wants this holiday weekend to be a safe one," said Col. Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Patrol. "I urge drivers to buckle up, obey Missouri's traffic laws and drive sober."