Heavy traffic expected during holiday weekend

Motorists urged to use caution, drive safely

The Labor Day holiday brings a three-day weekend for most Georgians, and many auto travelers may be in a “vacation mindset,” but state, federal and local authorities are cautioning motorists to buckle up, drive with care, don’t take unnecessary risks, and don’t drive while impaired.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, state troopers are preparing for heavy traffic during the Labor Day travel period, starting on Friday, Sept. 2, at 6 p.m., and ending at midnight on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.

Col. Mark McDonough, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers will patrol secondary roads and interstates this weekend. They will be watching for impaired drivers, speeders, people not wearing seat belts, and people who don’t correctly restrain their children, he said.

“Alcohol, speed and occupant protection violations are the primary contributing factors in fatal traffic crashes in our state,” he said. “Past experience has shown the majority of fatalities over a holiday weekend occur on the state routes, county roads and city streets.”

In Georgia, traffic crashes, last year, killed 14 people, according to statistics from the Crash Reporting Unit of the Georgia Department of Transportation. The 78-hour Labor Day holiday period in 2010 included 2,580 traffic accidents and 1,042 injuries.

Operation Zero Tolerance, Georgia’s high visibility DUI enforcement program, is currently in effect, and will continue through the holiday period. The Georgia State Patrol will also partner with the “Bee a Buckler” safety program to encourage motorists and passengers to wear a seat belt this weekend. Gov. Nathan Deal proclaimed the Labor Day weekend as “Bee a Buckler Safe Driving Weekend” in Georgia.

Furthermore, law enforcement officers across the nation will be a part of Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) during this holiday period, to stimulate safe travel.

Georgia’s Col. Mark McDonough said drivers should make sure their vehicles are properly maintained, before their holiday travels take place. Drivers should check their belts, hoses, lights, tire pressure and fluid levels, he explained.

“Drivers should take every precaution to prevent being stranded on the road,” he added. “Once on the road, be alert for potential dangers.”

He said people can be safe on the road by obeying the speed limit, not tailgating, allowing plenty of space before merging in front of tractor trailers, having a designated driver, if one plans to drink alcohol, making sure everyone is wearing a seat belt, and properly restraining children in a vehicle.

Another national enforcement effort is also under way. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently launched its multi-year campaign entitled, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” which is aimed at getting drunk drivers off the roads.

These efforts are focused on night-time enforcement, because fatal crashes involving drunk drivers often occur between midnight and 3 a.m.

“While we have made great strides in reducing drunk driving over the years, tragically, drunk driving remains one of the leading causes of death and injury on America’s roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood said through the new national campaign, and stronger law enforcement actions, authorities are sending a strong message to American drivers.

Joanna Newton, a spokesperson for AAA Auto Club South, said motorists who don’t have a designated driver and are intoxicated during the Labor Day holiday weekend, should use the organization’s free “Tow to Go” program. It provides a confidential ride and tow home from any bar or restaurant. Drivers should call 1-800-AAA-HELP.

“Labor Day weekend is the unofficial end of summer, and with so many people enjoying barbecues or going to restaurants, it means many could be drinking,” she said.

Dottie Callina, a spokeswoman for BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens, Atlanta & Northeast Georgia Inc., said the National Safety Council reports an estimated 400 traffic fatalities will occur during the holiday weekend across the U.S. About 38,800 medically consulted injuries will be endured from vehicle collisions, she said.

“With the upcoming Labor Day weekend upon us, and millions of drivers taking to the road, the BBB provides the following tips to make it as safe for you as possible,” she said.

Get rest before traveling

Tired drivers are a hazard to themselves and other motorists, said Callina.

Don’t text and drive

Distracted driving, she said, is evolving into one of the major causes of traffic accidents. Drivers should pull over to make a call, send a text message or do anything that will take their concentration away from the road.

Pay heed to emergency signals and traffic

Motorists who see another vehicle’s hazard signals flashing should move over to a neighboring lane and slow down, she said. If people want to help, they should call 911 and report the accident or incident.

Slow down

Drivers should allow themselves plenty of travel time to avoid frustrations and make room for extra stops along their trek, she explained.

Create a car safety kit

Holiday travel is often accompanied with bad weather, said Callina. Drivers can prepare for bad weather ahead of time by bringing their own safety kit on the road. The kit should have basic needs such as a blanket, a flashlight with extra batteries, and non-perishable food.

AAA’s Newton said a projected 5 million auto travelers will be on the road in the Southeast during the holiday weekend. These drivers are encouraged to follow the “Move Over” law in their respective states. This law requires drivers to slow down and move over one lane to give safety clearance to stranded motorists and emergency personnel, she said.

“With millions of drivers on the roadways this holiday weekend, it’s critical motorists do their [best] to abide by the Move Over law, and it’s equally as important for stranded motorists to take basic safety precautions, if they break down on the roadside,” she said.

The spokeswoman said Move Over, America reports that since 1999, more than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed by motorists who failed to abide by the Move Over law. This statistic does not include other first responders, she added.

If a vehicle breaks down, drivers should move to the right side of the road onto the shoulder where no one is not in danger of getting hit by oncoming traffic, said Newton. Drivers should immediately turn on their hazard lights, so they are visible to others.

Stranded drivers, who are concerned for their safety, should call 911, she said. Motorists should exit their non-working vehicle as far away from traffic as possible.