The most dangerous time to be on the road Thanksgiving week is 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to a five-year study being released this week by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The highest number of crashes in Ohio during the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period occurred between 4 and 6 p.m. Thanksgiving eve.
On average, there were 100 crashes in Ohio at the 4 p.m. hour on Wednesdays, 114 crashes at 5 p.m., and 107 crashes at 6 p.m.
Westbound traffic moves along Interstate 80 on Monday afternoon, as seen from the Four Mile Run Road bridge in Austintown. A Ohio Department of Transportation study shows that hour when the most traffic accidents occur over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend is 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
On Sundays, when people typically are driving home, the highest number of crashes usually occurs from 5 to 6 p.m. Over the five-year period, there were on average 65 crashes at 5 p.m. Sundays, and 72 crashes at 6 p.m. Sundays.
"During the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the number of vehicle crashes are up 70 percent over typical holiday weekends," ODOT spokesman Joel Hunt said. "While there are more crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekends, there are more crash-related deaths, on average, during the July 4 holiday weekend."
The study suggests a correlation with the increased number of vehicles on roadways and the stop-and-go nature of travel that increases the chances of vehicle crashes.
The most crashes over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday in Ohio will occur during rush hours Wednesday evening. Crashes by hour on average are:
4 p.m. - 100
5 p.m. - 114
6 p.m. - 107
Source: Ohio Department of Transportation
The Automobile Association of America, also known as AAA, estimates there will be 42.5 million people nationwide driving 50 miles or more during this holiday weekend, a 4 percent increase from the 40.9 million people that traveled that far this time last year.
"AAA is projecting an increasing the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year, due mostly to pent up demand from Americans who may have foregone Thanksgiving travel the last three years," said Jim Lehman, executive vice president, AAA East Central.
WYTV 33 News meteorologist Paul Wetzl said weather for the holiday weekend will be well above normal for this time of year in Ohio and in western Pennsylvania.
"For most of the weekend, the temperatures will be in the mid to high 50s," Wetzel said. "Normal temperatures for this time of year is in the mid-40s, so we are well above normal."
The first chance of rain will be on Sunday.
ODOT officials say the majority of vehicle crashes will occur in large urban areas and on interstates, where traffic volumes will be the highest.
"Our advice is for all people in their vehicles to wear their safety belts, plan their trips carefully and leave plenty of time for travel," Hunt said. "Most of the crashes are due to human error, including distracted driving."
Distracted driving includes using cell phones, eating, texting and anything that encourages drivers to take their eyes off the road.
There 3,200 vehicle crashes during the five day period in 2010. There were 83 people injured and 16 fatalities.
"Along with eliminating distraction while driving, we are encouraging drivers to not too closely to the vehicles in front of them," Hunt said. "Leave enough room to stop during emergencies."
In an effort to lower the possibility of traffic accidents, ODOT is halting construction projects during the holiday weekend, and, whenever possible opening up construction lanes to traffic.
Lt. Brian Holt of the Ohio State Highway Patrol post in Southington said there will be extra highway officers on the road throughout the holiday season. They do not, however, have OVI checkpoints scheduled for this weekend.
"When you're going out, have a designated driver ready and be cautious," Holt said.
Between Thanksgiving and the New Years' holiday, an average of 39 people are kill on Ohio roads, Lt. Anne Ralston, a State Patrol spokeswoman said.
"That is due to impaired driving," Ralston said. "That's why there is such an emphasis on lowering the number of people driving drunk or impaired. We want to lower that number."
Holiday travel has been slow since 2008, when only 37.8 million Americans took Thanksgiving holiday trips. Travel demand is still below expected levels. Memorial Day travel was statistically flat while Independence and Labor Day travel had decreases of 2.5 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.
Approximately 38.2 million people - 90 percent of all travelers - are expected to take to the roads this weekend. Although, at $3.39 per gallon, gasoline prices are up about $.50 cents above this time last year, the prices are $.59 cents lower than this year's highest gasoline prices.
The average traveler is expected to travel 706 miles this holiday, down from 816 miles last year.
Higher airfares are not expected to stop people from traveling.
Approximately eight percent of holiday travelers are expected to fly during this five day weekend, according to AAA. This represent a 1.8 percent increase over last year.
According to AAA's liesure travel index, Thanksgiving airfares are expected to be 20 percent higher than last year.