A file photo of traffic on the Long Island Expressway....

A file photo of traffic on the Long Island Expressway. (March 20, 2009) Credit: Newsday file, 2009 / Tony Jerome

Getaway day for the July Fourth weekend was actually Thursday. But travelers still risk getting stuck in traffic if they don't travel wisely Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, officials said.

Why? Because 4.39 million people in the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania region are expected to drive somewhere this holiday weekend - and because, on Long Island, the only way off is via a bridge or a tunnel. Or a boat.

That means choke points.

"That means delays," AAA Automobile Club of New York spokesman Robert Sinclair said.

As New York State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said: "A lot of people all trying to get to the same good places. That's the problem."

She said drivers can expect hot spots to include roads down to the South Shore beaches - and Montauk Highway on the East End. However, all NYSDOT road work - other than emergency work - has been suspended until Monday night in an attempt to keep closures to a minimum this holiday weekend and keep traffic moving.

A lot of travelers skipped out early, which should help the traffic flow, Sinclair said.

Still, Sinclair warned the two worst travel time periods for the remainder of the holiday weekend start Friday after 5 p.m. and between 6 p.m. and midnight Monday.

"Most people making long-distance trips already left," Sinclair said, "and most people are traveling Thursday and Friday and won't be traveling Saturday or Sunday, so that's good."

Sinclair said that drivers should do their best to avoid prime-time drives and major choke points - like the entrance ramp to the Throgs Neck Bridge from the Cross Island Parkway or the Whitestone Bridge. A better option is the on-ramp to the Throgs Neck from the Clearview Expressway, Sinclair said.

"And," he said, "drivers should try to use secondary roads, if possible, to avoid crowded roads."

Another good tip? He said the AAA recommends drivers not attempting to travel at times when they would normally be asleep. This can lead to microsleep - a condition where drivers literally fall asleep at the wheel for two, three, five seconds.

"At 60 mph a car travels 88 feet per second," Sinclair said. "That's almost the length of a football field in three seconds. . . It's just too dangerous."

Latest videos