- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

AAA predicts a 3 percent increase in the number of Washington-area residents taking to the road this Labor Day weekend, despite a heightened terror alert, record-high gasoline prices and the threat of Hurricane Frances.

“People are telling us they’ll be hitting the highways with a vengeance this holiday,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson said yesterday. “The current high gas prices — 18 cents higher per gallon of self-serve regular than last year in the D.C. area — won’t keep people off the highways this holiday.”

Mr. Anderson credits an improving economy and people feeling more comfortable about traveling three years after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

An estimated 537,600 area residents are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home. Nearly 85 percent of them will be driving, so the roads are likely to be packed. For those hitting the road, Mr. Anderson warns that the peak getaway time will be tomorrow from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Monday, the return crush is expected from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“People are leaving, but we are also a destination,” AAA spokeswoman Sue Akey said. “I would anticipate Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be very, very crowded.”

Maryland State Police said troopers will be “out in force.”

They will be on the lookout for the usual speeding, seat-belt, aggressive driving and drunken-driving violations. But this holiday they also are intensifying enforcement for motorcycle safety, especially for older drivers.

“There has been a recent rise in the number of fatal crashes with motorcycle drivers over [age] 40, with alcohol contributing to 40 percent of those crashes,” said state police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. Hutchins. “These last few weeks of summer are some of the heaviest travel periods for motorcyclists in Maryland.”

Col. Hutchins said he has instructed his troopers to watch for unsafe motorcyclists and automobile drivers who pose a risk to motorcyclists on the highways.

And then there is the powerful hurricane heading toward Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

“People should check the weather,” Miss Akey said. The most popular destination for travelers are the mountains and the beach, she said. AAA is calling Hurricane Frances “one possible fly in the ointment.”

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