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Millions of Americans are preparing to head out of town for the long holiday weekend. And as NPR's David Schaper reports, many are expected to travel by car, taking advantage of the lowest Fourth of July gas prices in over a decade.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: When it comes to planning a summer road trip, at first you might think 34-year-old Heather Breems is going overboard.
HEATHER BREEMS: We checked out a bunch of audio books. We've got DVDs, so we'll do a little bit of movie time.
SCHAPER: I mean she's got everything you can think of that five kids, ages 2 to 11, might want or need - picture books, coloring books, puzzles, games.
BREEMS: We've got Rubik's Cubes...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Whoa.
BREEMS: ...The kids are excited about. We have a kids version of "Would You Rather?"
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Oh.
SCHAPER: All of this and more stacked up on the floor of Breems' home office, ready to be packed up into her minivan for an epic three-week road trip that the family of seven will be taking from Chicago to visit family in California. They will leave at 6 a.m. sharp tomorrow morning, and Breems has planned out everything.
BREEMS: With our kids, we know them and their personalities. We very strategically placed who's going to sit where in the van to hopefully minimize any bickering or disagreements amongst the children.
SCHAPER: Breams says this is a trip they take every year, but they usually fly. But now, needing seven plane tickets, it's much cheaper to drive. Even with the gas we're going to spend, the hotels, all that, we're still going to save, from my calculation, a couple thousand dollars by driving.
TAMRA JOHNSON: Gas prices, many will find, are much cheaper than they were last year.
SCHAPER: Tamra Johnson of AAA says gasoline is unusually cheap this summer with prices averaging about 2.24 a gallon nationwide and much lower in some states.
JOHNSON: We're looking all the way back to 2005 when we saw prices this reasonable. And so especially during the summer, we typically see prices start to rise, and that hasn't been the case for 2017.
SCHAPER: A record-breaking 44 million people will be traveling more than 50 miles from home over the July Fourth holiday weekend. Some will fly, taking advantage of cheap airfares, so airports will be packed. But 37.5 million people will be driving, so expect traffic to be bad. And more traffic also means more crashes. Maureen Vogel of the National Safety Council estimates nearly 600 people will be killed on the roads during the holiday weekend.
MAUREEN VOGEL: These aren't good statistics. They are grim. We really want people to use them to make good decisions behind the wheel, to really drive defensively and stay alert, pay attention.
SCHAPER: Staying safe on the road trip is Heather Breams' No. 1 worry. That's why they're planning a slow trip with lots of stops to see the sights and long overnight rests.
BREEMS: I guess I'm worried about family fatigue and people just being fatigued. And we're all crankier when we're tired.
SCHAPER: On a road trip that's bound to make lifelong memories, she's hoping a little crabbiness won't be one of them. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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