AAA: High gas prices won’t keep motorists off the road

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July 4th gas prices are the highest since 2008, but more North Carolina motorists are expected to travel this year than did last year, according to AAA Carolinas, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The number of people traveling more than 50 miles from home is expected to be about 1.2 million. Of that number, 1.01 million are expected to drive, up 988,000 from last year. AAA Carolinas said that’s the largest number of people driving for the July 4th holiday since 2001.

In the Triad, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $3.52 on Wednesday, up 15 cents from a year ago. Statewide, the average price of gas was $3.56 on Wednesday compared with $3.40 a year ago.

AAA Carolinas said the increase in the year-over-year gas prices is partly because of the unrest in Iraq.

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said that turmoil has reduced oil production in Iraq and created uncertainty about future world oil supplies.

“Of course, the biggest driver of gas prices is the price of its main ingredient — oil,” Walden said. “If the Iraqi situation stabilizes – meaning no further disruptions to their oil production and no further gains by the militants — then we may see a few cents shaved off the price. But we’re now in the peak driving season, so gas prices will remain elevated compared to where they were earlier in the year.”

Still, gas prices have been fluctuating the past five weeks. The current average price of gas in the Triad is one cent cheaper than it was a week ago and six cents less than it was a month ago.

Walden doesn’t expect gas prices to rise above $4 unless there is a major destructive hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico or the situation in the Middle East becomes even more volatile.

AAA Carolinas defines the five-day Independence Day holiday travel period as Wednesday to Monday.

Over that period, airplane trips are estimated at 90,400, while other types of travel — bus, rail, watercraft — are estimated at 70,000.

As the busy summer travel season kicks into gear, the N.C. Department of Transportation is suspending most road construction work on major routes across the state from 4 p.m. Thursday until 9 a.m. Monday.

Exceptions include the closing of the N.C. 268 bridge over U.S. 52 in Pilot Mountain for a bridge replacement.

The DOT and the Governor’s Highway Safety Program are reminding motorists to drive safely. Expect to see extra patrols on roads as part of the state’s Booze It and Lose It campaign, which runs through Monday.

David E. Parsons, president and chief executive of AAA Carolinas urged people to avoid turning a good time into a tragedy.

“Don’t drink and drive and be especially vigilant behind-the-wheel,” Parsons said. “The other driver may not be.”

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