By Jason A. Smith
Millions of people are expected to converge on the nation's highways this weekend, as they head to their desired Thanksgiving destinations.
Law enforcement and travel industry officials in the Southeast agree that, as motorists take to the streets, safety should be their main concern.
Troopers with the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) will be out in full force for the Thanksgiving holiday period, which will begin at 6 p.m., Wednesday and end at midnight Sunday.
The GSP is anticipating a high volume of travelers, according to agency spokesman Gordy Wright. He said although the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends this year saw fewer motorists on the roads than normal, a recent development in Georgia will likely change that.
"Now that gas prices ... are well below the national average, we are pretty confident Thanksgiving will be the heaviest-traveled holiday period so far this year," said Wright. "We will have every available trooper patrolling highways Wednesday and Sunday, and will be at about 80 percent strength for the remainder of the holiday weekend."
The GSP spokesman said motorists should be mindful of their speed and proper seat belt usage, while being aware of other drivers, who may be impaired by alcohol. According to Wright, the question of safety comes down to preparation."The best thing for drivers to do, is to plan their trips carefully," he said. "They should ensure they have ample time to reach their destinations. If alcohol is in their holiday plans, they should designate a sober driver in advance."
The GSP issued a written statement Monday, containing statistics for last year's Thanksgiving travel period in the state. In 2007, there were 3,057 traffic crashes and 1,190 injuries reported in the 102-hour weekend, as well as 21 fatal crashes and 27 traffic deaths.
This year, the GSP estimates approximately 3,325 crashes, 950 injuries, and 19 fatalities could occur on Georgia roads during the holiday period.
Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, said Thanksgiving 2008 is expected to carry a "nominal decrease" in holiday travelers, from 41.6 million in 2007 to 41 million this weekend. He attributed the slight decline to a slow national economy, but said the projected figures are still significant.
"Anytime vehicle traffic increases, you can expect a higher number of crashes and fatalities," said Laskoski. "In Georgia, 1.2 million people will be traveling during the Thanksgiving weekend. Of that number, 1.1 million will be traveling by car."
The AAA spokesman further cautioned motorists to be certain their holiday meals do not render them incapable of driving safely.
"Many people overindulge on Thanksgiving by eating turkey, which contains tryptophan, and makes people tired after eating it," said Laskoski. "We strongly encourage people who are planning on driving after they eat, to stay overnight and drive in the morning. Drowsy driving is a very dangerous thing. You need to make sure you are mentally alert, and up to the task."