Woodward, Okla. —
Over 400,000 Oklahomans are expected to get away for the long Labor Day weekend.
AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said this represents "a little under 4 percent increase over last year" in total number of travelers.
"I think the increase is due to 3 reasons," Mai said. "First, there have been a number of optimistic economic indicators recently."
These positive economic indicators include how "consumer spending is up, consumer confidence is on the up-swing, manufacturing is seeing an increase and the housing market is showing a slow recovery."
When the economy is doing well, it is easier for more people to feel comfortable about spending money on extras like holiday vacations.
Secondly, Mai said more people may be looking to travel this Labor Day because motorists have recently been enjoying a drop in gasoline prices.
"Until yesterday (Tuesday), the state average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was 16 cents below where it was a year ago," he said.
However, unrest in the Middle East in areas like Egypt and Syria has caused crude oil prices to jump in the last couple of days, which will mean a rise in gas prices as well, Mai said.
But the AAA spokesman isn't sure it will have much impact now on the amount of Labor Day travel.
"Whether people will change their plans if they see a spike in gas prices, I'm not sure," he said. "I think most of them have already told their family and friends that they're coming to see them. So I get the feeling that they've already made their plans and are going to go ahead and make their grips."
Also while rise in gas prices even by just 10 cents might seem like a big jump, Mai said it doesn't really have as big of an impact on your wallet as it might seem.
"If you look at it realistically, if you're driving a car which averages around 25 miles per gallon and you take a trip of around 600 miles, you'll use 24 gallons of gas. If gas prices increase by a dime, then realistically you'll pay $2.40 more at the pump for your trip," he said.
He doesn't think this will be much of a detractor for most people's travel plans.
"I think in most cases, Oklahomans will just economize elsewhere on their trip," he said.
The third factor contributing to the expected increase in Labor Day travel is the weather, Mai said.
"We haven't had as hot of a summer as we usually have had in Oklahoma," he said. "I think this has encouraged more families to take a trip because they know they'll be more comfortable."
Also with the nice weather expected to hold out through the holiday weekend and "no severe weather on the horizon," he said he expects families are taking "this one last chance to get out and enjoy the weather and the beautiful countryside."
"This is the last gasp of summer," Mai said.
For those who are traveling this weekend, the AAA Oklahoma spokesman said that "visiting family and friends is the No. 1 destination."
"The No. 2 destination, for those driving at least, is Oklahoma's parks and lakes, especially with the weather holding up," Mai said.
Still other travelers may take advantage of Labor Day sales and visit some of the state's bigger cities to do some shopping, he said.
"Shopping is the No. 1 activity when people travel, shopping and of course dining out," he said. "So they may be interested in going to the Outlet Shops in southwest Oklahoma City or even to shopping areas like those in Medicine Park by Lawton, because there's a lot of interesting shops in that area."
Or Mai said this weekend's travelers "may visit that restaurant in Krebs that they've always heard about or any number of other travel treasures Oklahoma has."
SAFETY CONCERNS ON THE ROAD
As the vast majority, or nearly 85 percent, of Labor Day travelers are expected to travel by automobile, Mai said there are several things drivers should be aware of this holiday weekend.
"The most popular days to travel are this coming Friday when about half of the holiday travelers have indicated as their departing date, and Monday, Sept. 2, which is the most popular date of return for travelers," he said.
It is important to know about these heavy travel times, he said, so drivers can "consider timing our trips to avoid these times."
He strongly urged those travelers who can to consider leaving and/or returning from their Labor Day trips either the day before or after these peak driving times because "the highways will be less congested and there's an extra measure of safety built in as well."
As an additional safety precaution, Mai encouraged drivers to keep an eye on other drivers.
Because it is a holiday period, he said there is an "increased risk of inattentive driving, distracted driving, and falling asleep at the wheel."
"People are on holiday, on a little vacation so they may not be paying quite as much attention to the road as they may during the regular Monday through Friday work week," he said. "They may also be in a party frame of mind and alcohol may be involved."
So to help keep you and your family safe on the road, Mai encouraged travelers to " drive refreshed, limit distractions, expect the unexpected."
"Be aware that the other drivers are celebrating the holiday too and may not be paying as much attention as they should," he said.