Officials are urging motorists to use caution as a record number of travelers are expected to take advantage of lower gas prices and hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday.

More that 1.5 million North Carolinians are expected to travel 50 miles or more between Wednesday and Sunday, according to AAA Carolinas Motor Club. That represents nearly a 3 percent increase over 2018.

“Ninety percent of those traveling this Thanksgiving to visit with family and friends will be doing so with a road trip,” said Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas Traffic Safety Foundation president. “The sheer volume of vehicles on the road make this holiday such a dangerous time to travel that’s why we can’t stress enough how important it is to practice safety behind the wheel. Buckle up, don’t speed, never drive distracted or impaired.”

The majority of travelers, nearly 1.4 million in North Carolina, will travel by car, AAA reports, while the largest growth in holiday travel is by air, at 4.6 percent, with 107,700 North Carolinians flying to their destinations.

Nationwide, more than 55 million Americans will kick off the season with a Thanksgiving trip, the most since 2005.

Law enforcement will be looking to stop dangerous driving before potentially life-changing collisions take place, said Col. Glenn McNeill Jr., commander of the State Highway Patrol.

“This holiday season is a special time for many across our state,” McNeill said. “We as an agency will work tirelessly to keep this a joyous time for families and not one marred by the loss of a loved one from a traffic collision.”

The patrol will participate in the Care Across America I-40 Challenge, a joint campaign among eight states along the I-40 corridor. The campaign will begin on Wednesday and conclude Sunday. Troopers will focus patrols on I-40 and elsewhere to ensure safe travel.

A total of 1,442 people died as a result of wrecks in 2018, which is a 3.3 percent increase over the previous year, North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and Safe Kids N.C. Chairman Mike Causey said. During last year’s Thanksgiving holiday season, there were 2,957 wrecks resulting in 1,155 injuries and 20 deaths.

Motorists with children should take extra precautions to ensure the youngsters are properly restrained, Causey said.

“It’s one of the busiest times of the year, but wintry weather and long distances present safety hazards families need to heed in order to stay safe,” he said.

A chance of showers is expected for Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, with temperatures ranging from the high 30s to the high 50s, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast calls for mostly sunny conditions on Thursday and Friday.

Officials also reminded residents to use designated drivers over the holiday or to catch a ride if they have celebrated too much.

Thanksgiving eve has become a big night for binge drinking, as family and friends return home to reconnect for the holiday, according to AAA Carolinas. Labeled “Blackout Wednesday,” many times the evening consists of over-drinking which can lead to drunk driving.

“Blackout Wednesday, also known as Drinksgiving, can end with deadly consequences, so if you plan on drinking, have a plan,” a AAA spokesman said. “If you don’t have a designated driver, call a friend or family member, taxi or car share service such as Uber or Lyft, to get you home safely.”

As motorists make their way across the state, they can expect to see lower gas prices similar to or lower than last year, AAA Carolinas reported.

Today’s average of $2.37 in North Carolina is 1 cent less than a week ago, 3 cents less than a month ago and 9 cents less than this time last year, according to the auto club.

Nationally, the Thanksgiving week last year saw gas price average decrease a nickel between Monday and Thursday. Today’s national average is $2.59 compared to last year’s holiday weekend average of $2.57.

The average price in Pitt County on Monday was $2.43 cents. Gas price averages across the nation can be found at www.gasprices.aaa.com.

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.