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AAA says Christmas travelers will face few backups

December 23, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Experts say the good news is that Christmas-season traffic is expected to be lighter and less frustrating than it was over the Thanksgiving holiday.

They say the bad news is that there may be plenty of aggressive, drowsy and drunken drivers on roadways in Maryland and elsewhere.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Amanda Knittle said a slight increase in auto traffic is expected on the days around Christmas.

She said the biggest reason for increased traffic is the number of people traveling 50 miles or more to spend Christmas with family or friends.

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"I think the roads are going to be a lot busier Tuesday and Wednesday evening, as well as Sunday, when people are returning from those weekend trips," Knittle said.

Knittle said it is believed that travelers on some of the region's most-traveled roads won't face a lot of backups.

"I-95 never seems to be good on the weekdays," Knittle said. "But maybe there will be relief because there won't be rush-hour traffic from business commuters or folks traveling to and from school."

Maryland State Highway Administration Spokesman David Buck said he believes traffic problems associated with Christmas week will pale in comparison to conditions last month.

"There's nothing like Thanksgiving," Buck said. "Christmas Day is by and large heavy, but there aren't any specific areas of concern."

Buck said motorists probably will avoid some holiday weather headaches because forecasters are calling for rain instead of snow.

The National Weather Service is calling for occasional rain tonight through Wednesday afternoon, with temperatures in the high 40s. Forecasters say it will be partly cloudy with a low of 24 degrees on Christmas Eve and partly cloudy with a high of 42 on Christmas Day.

Buck said the pre-holiday days usually mean an increase in aggressive drivers, many of whom are trying to finish their shopping, and some of whom have been imbibing.

"People are out celebrating," Buck said. "You're going to have more people out drinking and driving."

Knittle voiced concern about "drowsy drivers." She said about 100,000 crashes are caused each year by people who doze off at the wheel.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department and Maryland State Police at Hagerstown will have more officers on the road over the holiday.

State Police Sgt. Rick Narron said several troopers will work overtime targeting aggressive and impaired drivers this week and next week.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Travers Ruppert said deputies have begun logging extra hours and will continue to do so into the new year.

"We've been out every weekend, doing additional holiday patrols during busy shopping hours and late hours for drunk drivers," he said.

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