Pit Stop People

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Even die-hard road trippers need to stretch their legs. The average traveler drives 165 miles before stopping for a break, but they start planning that pit stop 25 miles ahead of time, a new study by the University of Illinois Food & Brand Lab finds.

People over 50 tend to pull off the highway after 145 miles, while 30-to-50-year-olds keep going for a few more exits, logging 178 miles between stops.

The research also uncovered differences in where travelers stop. Older consumers opt for state-run rest areas over truck stops, even when the truck stop features a full range of facilities, including a fast-food restaurant.

This preference, the researchers suggest, might be because older adults don't buy much food and drink when they're on the road. The average over-50 consumer spends just $2.51 per person per stop on food and beverages, while the under-30 crowd drops $4.82 per person. Not surprisingly, younger travelers prefer full-service truck stops than side-of-the-road rest areas.

What steers drivers to one truck stop versus another? The cost of gas is the deciding factor. Even a price difference of as little as 5 cents a gallon can sway a traveler's decision regarding where to stop, the study shows. Men, consumers under 50, and families with two or more kids are most likely to be influenced by gas prices.

Other key features that attract weary road warriors: clean bathrooms, bright lighting, and freebies (coffee refills, for example). Maybe rest stops should also throw in a free back massage, too.

For more information about the study, contact the Food & Brand Lab at (217) 244-0208 or visit www.consumerpsychology.com.

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