Hundreds of thousands expected to travel today; State Police urging caution

By Jola Szubielski - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (NBC12) - It's the busiest travel day of the Thanksgiving season. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians will be taking to the roads right now. While AAA predicts there will be fewer people traveling than last year, you'll still have plenty of company.

It was definitely busier than usual on the roadways this morning, the traffic has definitely picked up. But get ready, because from now until 8 p.m., it's going to get even more crowded.

It's a long trek to Atlanta. But, Rick Watts and his family weren't about to miss the holidays with grandma. So they're up and at 'em early today before the expected rush starting at noon.

"My mom's down there, we always have Thanksgiving with her, so this year we said we'd take the trip," says Watts.

Millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Virginians have the same idea, traveling 50 miles or more from home and in response, State Police are ramping up their efforts to keep drivers safe-- additional troopers will be out on the roads with operation care.

"We're hopeful that extra vigilance and increased presence is a deterrent to aggressive driving but if that fails troopers will issue the necessary summons," says Sgt. Tom Cunningham.

Nineteen people were killed over the holiday last year. This year, State Police want that number to be zero. But officials can only do so much and are urging drivers to do their part. Make sure to buckle up, avoid alcohol, speeding and a big one, distractions. Something Watts admits can be difficult with a packed car.

But, he's got it down, first making sure the kids have plenty to do..

"We went to the store and got books, Ripley's believe it or not, got puzzle games, brain teasers..

Second, heeding the warnings.

"A lot of families out here today so we don't want to hurt anyones family," says Watts. "That's the overriding factor. It's not just me in the car so I gotta be cautious, antennaes up no texting on the phone, do not text on this trip. Just awareness."

And the key State Police say to a safe and happy holiday, is practing a little patience and going the extra mile.

"Sometimes extending a little courtesy can go a long way. allow other people in front of you, follow traffic laws, use signals and drive courteously out there," says Virginia State Police Sgt. Tom Cunningham.

State Police are focusing their effort this weekend on more inexperienced drivers- our teens.  They've seen a spike in deaths over the last three months, 35 teens killed in car related crashes. They're urging parents now to lead by example when behind the wheel.

Help for your travels
Relax, weary drivers: thanks to the Virginia Department of Transportation, there's one fewer headache you need to worry about.

VDOT has launched an online traffic planning tool on its Web site,, aimed at helping drivers avoid the peak times of holiday gridlock.

Data gathered from the past few years shows the heaviest traffic volume on the interstates, which allows VDOT to predict when the roads will be busiest.

The department expects the busiest time to be from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, with another spike in traffic Sunday afternoon.

The state will try to help ease congestion by opening some lanes temporarily closed for construction or maintenance work.

Copyright 2008. WWBT, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.