2 million Floridians to hit the road this Memorial Day

Better wrap up your plans and plan to head out early: More than 2 million Floridians — roughly 10 percent of the state’s population — are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend.

AAA said Wednesday that projection is the highest in 12 years for Florida. And coupled with a record tourism pace in the Sunshine State, 31 million visitors in just the first quarter, it would represent a massive movement of population in a short period of time.

So, expect crowded highways, airports and beaches. But it’s also good news for Florida’s tourism economy, which is on a torrid pace to exceed 120 million visitors in 2017.

Across the country, lots of other people will also be on the move for what is the traditional start to the summer vacation season.

Low gas prices plus a long-weekend equals an estimated 39.3 million Americans traveling this Memorial Day weekend, AAA also estimated.

The automotive and travel group’s projection would mean equate to to 1 million more Americans traveling than during Memorial Day 2016.

“The expected spike in Memorial Day travel mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Vicky Evans, Assistant Vice President, Travel Sales Development, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “So far in 2017, travel bookings with AAA in Florida are up 17 percent, compared to the same period last year. Higher confidence, rising wages, and recent gas price declines have bolstered consumer spending, leaving many Americans with more money to spend on travel this Memorial Day.”

Florida’s Turnpike travel tips for Christmas and New Year’s

Taking a road trip for the holidays? You’re not alone. The U.S. Department of Transportation says the Christmas/New Year’s holiday is one of the busiest for long-distance travel, next to only Thanksgiving.

And more than 90 percent of those people who are traveling long distances are taking their cars, the DOT says.

(Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
(Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

So what’s a driver to do? Florida’s Turnpike offers these tips if you’re taking the toll road to visit family or friends.

Avoid the busiest times: According to a news release from the turnpike, the busiest driving times for holiday travel will be 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 23, 26 and 30 and Jan. 2. These normally busy rush hour periods could be even more congested as holiday travelers compete for space with daily commuters.

Check your tires: Tire safety is key for a long road trip, regardless of when you travel. Check your tire pressure and make sure your tread isn’t too worn down.

Get a free cup of coffee: Each turnpike service plaza will offer free coffee during four “Free Coffee Safety Breaks” over the holidays. Get the dates and times here.

Service plaza construction: The Port St. Lucie/Fort Pierce plaza construction still is underway, and parking is limited. All of the plaza’s services are available, but motorists should be patient when looking for parking and slow down when driving through the plaza’s parking areas.

FL511 app: The state’s FL511 app offers real-time updates on the turnpike and other highways in Florida. Motorists can plan a route and check for crashes ahead.





Where to get free coffee if you’re driving in Florida for the holidays

Driving for the holidays and need a little pick-me-up? Find it at service plazas along Florida’s Turnpike in the form of free coffee.

Each plaza and its gas station will offer a “Free Coffee Safety Break” over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, turnpike officials said in a news release.

Who can say no to a free cup of coffee? Especially one that's perfectly timed to help you make it to your family's holiday dinner. (Getty Images)
Who can say no to a free cup of coffee? Especially one that’s perfectly timed to help you make it to your family’s holiday dinner. (Getty Images)

Here are the dates/times when you can get the free coffee:

• 11 p.m. Dec. 24 to 6 a.m. Dec. 25
• 11 p.m. Dec. 25 to 6 a.m. Dec. 26
• 11 p.m. Dec. 31 to 6 a.m. Jan. 1
• 11 p.m. Jan. 1 to 6 a.m. Jan. 2

» RELATED: Drowsy driving: A holiday danger you should pay more attention to

The U.S. Department of Transportation says Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s are the top long-distance travel periods each year, with more than 90 percent of those travelers take a personal vehicle. With more people on the roads, driving while sleepy or impaired can pose a real threat to motorists.

Last year, Palm Beach County’s number of fatigue-related crashes, 315, fell behind Miami-Dade with 550, Broward with 405 and Orange with 324, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Throughout Florida, state officials say there were 23 deaths and more than 4,000 wrecks caused by drowsy driving.

The Florida Department of Transportation says that if you’re feeling sleepy behind the wheel, getting some caffeine and taking a break to walk can help.

So take advantage of the free coffee if you’re making one of these overnight treks.


Want to see whether your medication could affect your driving? Go to www.roadwiserx.com.


A recent Governors Highway Safety Association study notes different levels of drowsiness, and what to look for:

Moderately drowsy: A driver will have “slack facial muscles, limited body movement and reduced eye scan.”

Severely drowsy: A driver will have the signs of being moderately drowsy, plus “extended eyelid closures and difficulty keeping his or her head up.”


• Drive sober and avoid medications that cause drowsiness.

• Get a good night’s sleep before driving.

• Take a companion on long trips. Not only will you have someone to share the driving and help keep you awake but you’ll be able to save energy by carpooling, too.

• Schedule regular breaks, about every 100 miles or every two hours.

• Avoid driving at times you usually would be asleep.

• If you begin to feel tired while driving, pull over in a safe place — such as a rest area or service plaza — and take a nap if you can.

• Drink caffeine. Two cups of coffee can increase your alertness for several hours.

SOURCES: Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles