Memorial Day Weekend Travel

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This holiday weekend, drivers will pay more at the pumps than on past Memorial Days. Michelle Donati of AAA Arizona talks about holiday gas prices and how to stay safe on the road.

Ted Simons: If you have big travel plans this Memorial Day weekend, be prepared to pay big bucks at the pump. Joining us now with more on holiday gas prices is Michelle Donati of AAA Arizona. Thanks for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Michelle Donate: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: Before we get to the big buck, let's talk about travel figures. What are you expecting? How does that compare?

Michelle Donate: Well, we're expecting more than 714,000 Arizonans to travel more than 50-miles from home and that's flat from last year. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Last year we experienced quite a bit of travel recovery, about 7.5% over 2009. We've been able to maintain that recovery this year but not necessarily growing travel figures.

Ted Simons: Ok, gas prices, how are they impacting those numbers?

Michelle Donate: Well, if gas prices were lower, we could see more people travel. The people are saying it's not necessarily impacting their travel decision decisions. Six in ten said they weren't impacting them said they're not impacting our decision at all. Of the remaining four, 70% said they're impacting but we're going to make accommodations in spite of the fact that gas prices are 92 cents per gallon higher than last year.

Ted Simons: Where are we now and the areas in the valley that are the highest, where are the lowest?

Michelle Donate: The statewide average is $3.60 per gallon. Prices have dropped for two weeks now, this week dropped by four cents. Again, we're still paying 92 cents over the time last year. Tucson drivers, they're paying the lowest, in the $3.50 range, Flagstaff the highest, in the high $3.80 range, low $3.90 range.

Ted Simons: Talk about the national average, and where we stand. Seems like -- recently done well.

Michelle Donate: The national average is $3.81. There's a number of states above the $4 mark. If anyone's heading over to California, I would recommend a fill up before you head of town because you're probably not going to find a fuel price under 4 dollars in California.

Ted Simons: But still, this is the most, correct me if I'm wrong, the most we've paid heading into a Memorial Day weekend, here in Arizona.

Michelle Donate: That's right. In 2008, the weekly average heading out to Memorial Day was $3.63. at $3.68 this is the most Arizonans have paid heading into Memorial Day weekend.

Ted Simons: You talked about how things are kind of trending down for the last few weeks. What are you seeing for the rest of the summer?

Michelle Donate: It's difficult to say, a couple of things at play. The price of crude oil has been relatively calm, in the $100 per barrel range and in addition, we're seeing, you know, the fact that the demand is -- we're heading into summer travel season and that's going to play a factor. Also, hurricane season will begin soon. We typically don't see the season extremely active until later in the summer. Last year, didn't experience much activity at all. But we know from years past that if there's a storm that causes any damage to infrastructure, then there could be an impact later on in the summer. So, it's difficult to say where prices are going to end up at the end of the summer, but barring unforeseen circumstances, we should continue to see prices continue to ease in the short term.

Ted Simons: That's relatively good news. Not so good news, an increase in roadside assistance at AAA. What's going on here?

Michelle Donate: We're projecting we're going to serve 135,000 motorists between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. That's an increase of 3% over last year.

Ted Simons: Because? What's happening?

Michelle Donate: It's a lack of preventive maintenance. Half the calls we respond to could be prevented with preventive maintenance and there's a trend of motorists holding on to their vehicles longer. Older vehicles on the road and as the vehicle gets older, may need more maintenance and care to make sure you don't experience a failure.

Ted Simons: We've talked about this in the past with AAA, and I'm wondering if this is in the projections as well. People because of these high gas prices trying to squeeze every gallon and a lot of times they don't make it, do they?

Michelle Donate: That's right. Fuel delivery calls even with gas prices almost a dollar lower, the top four calls for service. The top call was for battery-related calls. Not a surprise given the heat. Number two was tire related calls and you know when you -- when temperatures are in the 100 digit range and triple digit, we start to see shreds of tires on the road and three is lockouts, which can be dangerous in Arizona summer heat and the fourth topical last summer and likely be one of the top this summer, and it will likely be the top this summer, fuel delivery. Interesting given the fact last year we were paying about a dollar less. This year, quarter one of 2011, 2010, we've experienced over 6% increase in the number of fuel calls we've received.

Ted Simons: You mentioned batteries number one?

Michelle Donate: Number one. The lifespan of an battery in Arizona is substantially lower than other parts of the country. That's just given our heat. If your battery is about two years, that's when you really want to make sure you test it before you go out. The one thing to keep in mind, if you're driving and your battery dies, you're not going to experience that failure until you stop the car and turn it back on. It's more of an inconvenience than a safety issue. But the tires are a safety issue. We know a number of people are injured and killed as a result of tire failures every year.

Ted Simons: Very good information. Thank you for joining us.

Michelle Donate: Thank you.

Michelle Donati:AAA Arizona;

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