Crowded holiday roads a cause for concern, state transportation authorities warn

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Nearly 40 million people are taking to the roads this week to spend time with family and friends for Thanksgiving, and area transportation officials are urging caution on crowded roads.

"When it comes to making choices, carving turkey with family and friends still trumps pinching pennies," says AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet.

That means lots of drivers stacked up against the holiday odds.

Thanksgiving marks the deadliest week for drivers, according to the highway patrols in Missouri and Kanssl.

An increased number of cars on the road, combined with people driving on unfamiliar roads, late at night, after stuffing themselves with turkey and indulging in drinks, are all contributing factors to the deadly statistics.

The Missouri Department of Transportation says there were 1,372 traffic crashes on state highways during the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday, including four fatalities.

In Kansas, the Highway Patrol is stepping up enforcement on impaired drivers and seat belt laws.

Joining the Patrol in the holiday crackdown will be the Overland Park Police Department.

Overland Park police officer Gary Mason says one misstep could send drivers to the hospital, rather than the dining room table

"We're going to be out there in full force just to get the message across," Overland Park police spokesman Gary Mason said. "Slow down, take your time to get to your destination safely, that will be safer for everyone."

Experts say be ready for traffic and construction on the roads, and in some cases chaos that could test traveler's patience.

"Pack anything that you would need for 24 hours," suggests Orbitz travel expert Jeanenne Tornatore. "Have with you your chargers for your phones and your tablets, any medications you need, things that you would need for your kids in that 24 hour period. It's just better to be prepared."

Mason also suggests watching your friends and family's alcohol intake using the buddy system to know when to cut off a friend, offer a ride or call a cab. He also suggests mapping out your route ahead of time so you can focus on the roadway.

The Missouri Department of Transportation offers these five tips to keep your trip safe.

•• Plan your trip. MoDOT has expanded and upgraded its Traveler Information mobile app. This app offers the latest information on Missouri road conditions, work zones, flooding and incidents for iPhones, Androids, iPads and tablets.
•• Buckle Up. The use of safety belts and child restraints is one of the best ways to prevent death and personal injury when involved in a traffic crash.
•• Don't Drive Distracted. Concentrate only on your driving and pay close attention to motorists around you.
•• Obey the laws of the road. Speeding is a contributing factor of the fatal and personal injury crashes during the holidays.
•• Don't drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you plan to drink, designate a driver, or call a cab.
NBC News contributed to this report

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