As millions across the state and nation prepare to take to the skies or roads for the Thanksgiving holiday, state and local authorities are urging motorists to take the necessary precautions and preparations to have a safe trip.

The official holiday travel period begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday and ends at midnight Sunday.

According to the S.C. Highway Patrol, 11 people died over Thanksgiving weekend last year.

On Monday, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in South Carolina was $3.11, according to AAA of the Carolinas Daily Fuel Gauge Report. With the recent decrease in gas prices, Highway Patrol officials an a an

an increase in traffic and congestion on roadways.

“We had one fatality over the Labor Day weekend this year, which was a long travel period and a time when we typically see a greater number of collisions and deaths,” said Leroy Smith, director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety. “While that was tremendous, it is not good enough. Our goal for Thanksgiving weekend is zero fatalities.”

According to the Highway Patrol, there have been 727 fatalities this year – including motor vehicles, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists – compared to 745 at this time last year. Of 480 motor vehicle deaths, 279 of those people killed weren’t wearing seat belts.

State Transport Police Col. Leroy Taylor said his officers are responsible for regulating and enforcing commercial motor vehicle traffic and will place a strong emphasis on helping motorists understand some of the challenges CMV drivers face when interacting with passenger cars.

“Some people simply don’t realize the challenges of interacting with truck traffic,” he said. “Large trucks cannot maneuver as quickly to avoid collisions as a smaller vehicle. We are educating motorists to stay out of CMVs’ blind spots and to remember not to stop suddenly or veer in front of a CMV.”

The Department of Public Safety has teamed up with the S.C. Trucking Association to educate motorists about traveling safely with commercial vehicles and will have demonstrations and information available at several interstate rest stops around the state on Wednesday.

Locally, Aiken has not seen significant problems with Thanksgiving traffic in recent years, according to Sgt. Jake Mahoney of the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase,” he said. “It’s not the traffic volume that increases as much as the timing of the traffic increase. We see a lot more people in the roadways in the early morning hours trying to catch the Black Friday specials.”

Mahoney advised motorists to plan ahead and know your route. Additionally, make sure family and friends know where you are and how to reach you.

“If you’re out and about, be patient,” he said. “Expect that there may be increased congestion in shopping areas and other major roadways.”

Mahoney also recommended a pre-trip vehicle inspection, paying particular attention to the tires, head and tail lights and windshield wipers.

Scooter Hallman, owner of Hallman’s Auto Service Inc. on Highway 1, said they’ve seen an increase in clients bringing their vehicles in to prepare for road trips. He said the most common repairs are replacing belts and hoses on an engine, but that they also pay close attention to the tires, all of which he said should be examined for signs of wear, cracks or dry rotting.

“The biggest problem: nobody ever checks their tire inflations,” he said. “They can run on a low tire, which hurts your gas mileage.”

Tires that appear worn down or smooth need to be replaced, he said. All tires have “wear indicators” on them, which are small bars located between the treads that become more visible as the tire is worn down.

“Your tires are worn slap-out when you get down to there,” Hallman said.

In addition to tires, belts and hoses, Hallman advised motorists to check the fluid levels of antifreeze, oil and transmission fluid.

He said the down economy often has a negative effect on vehicle maintenance.

“People are cutting corners and avoiding it if they can put it off – if I can get by with this or that for one more trip,” he said. “A simple thing as a belt breaking turns into the motor running hot because you think you can drive it 5 miles down the interstate to the next exit with a belt broken. It all goes back to keeping the maintenance up on your vehicle.”

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.

If you plan to travel this holiday, the state Highway Patrol has provided the following list of tips to ensure a safe trip:

• Take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.

• Keep a safe following distance (at least three seconds behind the car in front of you).

-Report aggressive drivers or drivers exhibiting signs of impairment by calling *HP.

-Be aware of work zones, of law enforcement assisting other motorists and pay attention to Move Over laws.

-Refrain from travel right after a large meal, when you might be more prone to fatigue behind the wheel.