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Utah drivers expected to flood highways for Memorial Day weekend

Published May 22, 2014 10:31 am

Holiday • Highway Patrol beefing up trooper presence to keep highways safe.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Drivers from Utah and elsewhere in the Mountain West region are expected to flood the highways and interstates over the Memorial Day weekend in numbers among the highest in the decade.

The AAA's holiday travel forecast predicts 2.3 million residents of the region (Utah, Northern California and Nevada) will hit the roads between Friday and Monday evening. Add in those taking holiday plane or bus trips, and the number of Mountain West natives traveling 50 miles or more during the Memorial Day weekend swells to 2.7 million.

AAA no longer breaks down its holiday travel projects by individual states, but Utah's share of those travelers should easily approach a million.

AAA Utah spokeswoman Roylane Fairclough says the rising travel numbers — estimated to be at least the third-highest number of Mountain West travelers since 2005, and the highest level of increase since the recession of 2008 — is a reflection of economic recovery, or at least the perception of one.

"When people travel more, it is usually because they feel good about their own particular economics," Fairclough said. "They are having more confidence and are willing to spend more of their discretionary income on travel."

Utah's abundant state and national parks and forests will be prime destinations for many holiday travelers, second only to residents driving to visit distance family members.

It is the combination of long-distance travel, and celebratory imbibing, that has the Utah Highway Patrol on heightened alert throughout the holiday weekend.

"This is one of the biggest holidays of the year for us. First, there's the volume of traffic, starting Friday and peaking Friday night when the majority of people leave on their vacations, and then Monday afternoon when they come back," UHP Sgt. Todd Royce said.

"Memorial Day weekend is not like Halloween or Christmas or New Year's, when we usually have drivers traveling short distances impaired; this is impaired drivers and long distances being traveled," Royce added.

This year, in addition to the traditional beefed up UHP presence on the state's highways and freeways, troopers also will be keeping an eye out for violations related to Utah's new restrictions on dialing or texting on cell phones while behind the wheel.

Troopers hope to reverse a deadly Memorial Day weekend trend: last year there were three fatal accidents on the state's highways — a sharp rise from 2012's zero deaths and 2011's single holiday traffic fatality.

"Drivers this year will see a significant increase in our manpower, with more troopers on the highways," Royce said. "We want to make sure the public gets to and from where they want to be in a safe manner."

One possible downer for holiday motorists could be rising gas prices, something Fairclough said is an annual trend typical for the Mountain West, and particularly for Utah.

"Nationally, gas prices tend to go down [during the Memorial Day weekend], but ours in Utah continue to go up. I've been doing this job for some 20 years now and that's always been the case," she said.

Utah's gas price trends are contrary to national fuel progressions. While winter months see higher prices for most of the nation, Utah's prices retreat during periods of reduced travel. When warmer weather hits and fuel transportation eases for such states along the East and West coasts, landlocked Utah sees demand rise for supplies largely limited to truck tanker deliveries.

"It's a function of demand for gasoline in this part of the country. We don't have navigable rivers or coastal transportation options, so [fuel] transportation costs are higher for us," Fairclough said.

As the weekend approached, Utah's gas prices were hovering close to the national average of $3.62 per gallon for unleaded regular. However, while the rest of the nation's costs at the pump generally were falling, Utah's fuel price tag had jumped from just $3.36 per gallon, which the state's service stations averaged just a month ago, Fairclough said.

Nationally, AAA projects that more than 36 million people will journey 50 miles or more during the Memorial Day weekend, representing a 1.5 percent increase compared to last year.

AAA's projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA as part of an agreement to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims —

Before you go, check that car •

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection is reminding the public to check out their vehicles, campers or trailers for road readiness with a trusted mechanic before heading out of town. Here are some tips:

— Work with a trusted repair shop: Routine maintenance can help avoid emergency repairs on the road. The best time to find a mechanic or auto repair shop is before you need one. Ask family and friends to recommend trusted repair shops and mechanics. Check names with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection's "Buyer Beware List," http://consumerprotection.utah.gov/scams/buyerbeware.html, and read about companies online. Make a contingency plan for repairs by identifying auto shops along your route and keep a smart phone and laptop handy for on-the-road research.

— Check tires wear and air pressure: 83 percent of American don't know how to properly inflate their tires, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

Drivers should check pressure levels on all tires plus the spare for vehicles, trailers and campers. Temperature changes can affect tire pressure as you travel through different climates. Proper pressure levels can be found in the owner's manual or on a sticker most often located on the driver's side door jamb. Check tire tread depth by placing a quarter upside down in the grooves. If the top of Washington's head is exposed at any point, it's time to start shopping for new tires. Look for uneven tire wear which can indicate problems with suspension, wheel balance or alignment that need repair.

— Is your car battery properly charged: At every oil change, check the battery cables and ensure they are securely attached to the terminals. Clean the terminals if there are signs of corrosion. Disconnecting the cables to clean the hidden areas where they contact the battery terminals is the best way to remove external corrosion. Most car batteries have a three to five year service life, depending on local climate and vehicle usage patterns.

— Keep wipers working: Check wiper blades to see if they are worn, cracked or rigid with age. Damaged wiper blades won't adequately remove debris, compromising the driver's vision and safety. The life of a rubber insert is typically six to 12 months depending on its exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight, and rain.

— Examine engine fluids: Check engine fluids and top off levels before hitting the road. Make sure the air conditioning system working properly.

— Prepare for Emergencies with Road Side Kit: Be ready for the unexpected by keeping an emergency road side kit in your vehicle with jumper cables, tire inflator, first aid kit, etc., to aid in any emergency breakdown.

For more information, contact the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or log on to: http:// http://www.consumerprotection.utah.gov Trains and buses •

Utah Transit Authority plans to run its buses and TRAX and FrontRunner trains on their usual schedules throughout the holiday weekend with the exception of Monday, when no services will be offered.

Full service will resume on Tuesday.