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Holiday Travel Exodus Starts This Weekend

Get ready for times of heavy freeway traffic and extra law enforcement patrols over the next two weeks.

Millions of Californians are expected to hit the road and head out of town over the holidays.

While 10 million are expected to drive to and from their vacation destinations between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, a fair number will start their trips this weekend.

"We will start to see an exodus this weekend as many take off the week before Christmas as well," said Cynthia Harris, a spokeswoman for AAA of Northern California.

How clogged the freeways get in the next few days remains to be seen. The big travel days will, of course, be next Friday and Saturday. One hint for brisk passage along freeways and airport terminals, according to Harris: Travel on Christmas Day.

A AAA survey shows that a sluggish economy is not stopping Californians from maintaining holiday traditions that involve travel over Christmas and New Year's.

AAA predicts an estimated 11.4 million Californians will travel during this end-of-the-year holiday season, representing an overall increase of 4.1 percent compared to 2010. The majority of those people -- more than 10 million -- will drive, representing a 2.5 percent increase compared to last year. Fewer will fly this year, with the airlines industry experiencing a 9.9 percent decline compared to 2010.

Although Californians are scaling back on travel expenditures, "many are creating opportunities to visit family and friends during these holidays," Harris said.

Nationally, AAA projects 91 million people will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday season. That’s a 1.4 percent increase compared to last year.

The Contra Costa County office of the California Highway Patrol already shifted into holiday enforcement mode this week, launching its "Season of Safety" holiday traffic safety campaign on Monday.

During this time, the CHP in Contra Costa County plans to increase the number of patrol cars that will be on the lookout for speedng motorists, seat belt scofflaws and drunken drivers.

This extra enforcement, including a DUI checkpoint in Bay Point, is scheduled to continue through New Year's, said Lt. Christopher Sherry. Eighty percent of the resources of the Contra Costa office will be in force on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and on New Year's Eve. 

"The whole thing about the checkpoint is to deter people from drinking and driving, remove drunken drivers from the road and educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving," Sherry said.

AAA Northern California is doing its part to reduce drunken driving over the holidays. Its Tipsy Tow Program offers a free tow for drinking drivers in Northern California from 6 pm on Dec. 24, until 6 a.m. on Dec. 26, and from 6 p.m. Dec. 31 to 6 a.m. Jan. 1. Members and non-members alike can call (800) 222-4357 (AAA-HELP) for a free tow of up to ten miles.

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