Drivers: Carve out time to get to your Thanksgiving destination

John Egan

About 39 million Americans will be hitting the roads for Thanksgiving 2012, AAA predicts. That means a lot of turkeys, stomachs and roadways will be stuffed.

"Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled," Robert Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, says in a news release. "Since that year, we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets so they can gather around the holiday table to carve the turkey."

AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, up 0.7 percent from 2011. For 2012, 90 percent of Thanksgiving travelers - or 39.1 million - will go by car, up 0.6 percent from the year before, AAA says.

AAA says there appears to be a shift toward shorter-distance holiday trips, as travelers are planning round-trip Thanksgiving treks in 2012 averaging 588 miles, down 17 percent 2011.

For 2012, the Thanksgiving travel period is defined as Nov. 21-25. Each year, about 400 traffic deaths occur over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Safety Commission.

Among travelers surveyed by AAA, 45 percent plan to leave the Wednesday before the holiday (45 percent) and return the following Sunday (36 percent), with another 25 percent expecting to return Monday.

Thanksgiving driving safety tips

Courtesy of the American Trucking Associations, Consumer Reports and Esurance, here are 12 tips to help you navigate the roads around Thanksgiving.

  1. Plan your route and an alternate route. Even with GPS systems, it's easy to get lost if you're traveling in unfamiliar territory.
  2. Designate someone in the car to serve as the navigator.
  3. Get a good night's sleep before you travel. If you're feeling drowsy, pull over and take a 20-minute nap.
  4. Fill up the gas tank, and check fluid levels and tire pressure before you hit the road.
  5. Stock your car with an emergency kit, especially a flashlight, blanket, first aid kit and basic tools. Also, bring water and extra snacks.
  6. Schedule regular stops every couple of hours. Get out of the car and stretch your legs for a few minutes.
  7. Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  8. Allow an extra hour or two of travel time to compensate for traffic and weather delays. "Nobody will complain if you arrive early," Esurance says. "They'll probably just hand you a potato peeler and put you to work."
  9. Don't cut in front of large trucks. Remember that a big truck is heavier than your car and takes longer to make a complete stop.
  10. Make sure everyone in your car is wearing seat belts.
  11. Don't be distracted. Put your cellphone away when you're behind the wheel. "Even just two seconds of distraction time doubles the chances of an accident," the American Trucking Associations says.
  12. Don't drink and drive.