The Woodward News

December 19, 2013

Expect crowded roads over holiday

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — A record number of Oklahomans will be loading up the family car and traveling over this holiday season.

An estimated 862,000 Oklahomans will be on the road between Christmas and the New Year, according to AAA of Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai.

With a full 94 percent of Oklahoma travelers getting to grandma's house by car or pickup, it's time to plan ahead and take that extra time to be safe, Mai said.

That means drivers need to pay attention to the three "Ds," Mai said.

"Those are driving drunk, distracted or drowsy," he said. "That's why these fatal car accidents really pull at my heartstrings, because the biggest majority of them are so avoidable. Just slow down and don't do stupid things"

Cell phones, alcohol and driving while tired can all be avoided, he said.

Add to the sheer number of drivers the fact that the weather is beginning to look a lot like Christmas and you could just have the "perfect storm," said Woodward Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer.

Lehenbauer said already some families are planning early Christmas gatherings with this weekend.

"The forecast is not real clear yet. The data has already changed several times, " Lehenbauer said. "The number one thing, people need to be ready for anything."

Lehenbauer said travelers need to check the forecast the night before they travel and the morning of.

"I don't really trust any of the forecasts out there right now," he said. " RIght now, it shows that Thursday there will be a shot of cold air. Then Friday is when we expect the moisture to hit."

He expects the freezing rain in Northwest Oklahoma to hit around midnight and the possibility of snow on Saturday. There is a possibility of thunderstorms in the south and rain in central Oklahoma.

"We aren't expecting a lot of snow in northwestern Oklahoma, but any amount of freezing precipitation can make travel treacherous," he said.

Mai added that when people read stories warning them about safe travel in the paper, they may not think of themselves as being in that number of travelers who might be at risk. It is human nature to not count yourself as a possible statistic in a possible fatal accident.

Take Mai for example.

When asked, Mai said initially that he wasn't planning to travel this holiday season.  But then he realized that he and his family were indeed, planning to go see a friend for a day. On the face of it, he did not count himself as one of those nearly 870,000 on the road.

"I guess we are in that group," he said.

In that way, the "It will never happen to me" mindset can take over and allow people to text, for instance,  because they have already counted themselves out of those at risk drivers," he said.

According to Mai, about 40 percent of all holiday traffic accidents involve alcohol.

"Even if you are not impaired, you are sharing the road with people who are impaired," he said.

Mai, who lives in Edmond, attributes the upswing in holiday travel to a more robust economy in this state.

"Combine that with lower gas prices and people are just choosing to travel more this year," he said. "Gas prices are only about a dime lower than they were a year ago, but they are a full dollar lower than they were in May this year."

Across the country, AAA expects to come to the rescue of 3.76 million motorists between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1. The top reasons for these breakdowns are dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. Motorists should check the condition of their batteries, tires, fluids and hoses to make sure their vehicles are ready for winter driving before heading out. Car care tips are available at AAA.com.