By Brian McBride
With Thanksgiving Day holiday travel expected to be the highest since 2007, law enforcement officials are advising motorists to take precautions while on the road.
The Florida Highway Patrol will have troopers conducting enforcement operations throughout the holiday weekend beginning on Wednesday and throughout the weekend.
In Osceola County, troopers will be focusing on Interstate 4, U.S. Highway 192 and State Road 417, FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said.
AAA projects that 48.7 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, an increase of 1 million travelers compared with last year. This represents a 1.9 percent increase over 2015, and the most Thanksgiving travelers since 2007.
“FHP reminds drivers to give themselves plenty of time for traveling,” Montes said. “We typically see high volumes of traffic starting on Wednesday around 2 p.m. and then Sunday afternoon around the same time. Wednesday is typically the busiest travel day of the year.”
This year’s increase in Thanksgiving travel is spurred by improvements in the economy during the second half of the year, including rising wages, increased consumer spending and overall strength in consumer confidence, AAA officials said. Despite incremental increases in the national average price of gasoline during the past couple months, AAA estimates U.S. drivers have saved more than $28 billion so far at the pumps this year compared to the same period last year.
“This is the most traveled holiday of the year, and as usual, there is an emphasis on road trips,” said Joseph J. Richardson Jr., president and CEO of AAA – The Auto Club Group.
The vast majority—more than 89 percent—of holiday travelers will drive this Thanksgiving, according to AAA. The 43.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip represented an increase of 1.9 percent over last year.
And with that come some driving habits that need to be prevented for a safe trip.
“We are seeing an increase in crashes that involve drowsy driving, especially in the overnight hours,” Montes said. Some of these drivers will work long hours and then try to travel a distance to be with family. Falling asleep behind the wheel can cause a crash in seconds.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60 percent of adult drivers – about 168 million people – say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third, (37 percent or 103 million people), have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. In fact, of those who have nodded off, 13 percent say they have done so at least once a month. Four percent – approximately 11 million drivers – admit they have had an accident or near accident because they dozed off or were too tired to drive.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
Montes said distractions on the road, such as texting, need to be avoided.
“Distracted driving continues to be a problem as drivers are still texting and driving and letting other distractions occur in the car as they are driving,” Montes added. “Drivers tend to multi task as the are taking extra time off from work. Drivers need to assign a designated person to text in the car while they are driving.”
In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the Anthony Phoenix Branca Foundation, which is designed to help bring awareness to the consequences of distracted driving. Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes. And drivers in their 20s are 23 percent of drivers in all fatal crashes, but are 27 percent of the distracted drivers and 38 percent of the distracted drivers who were using cell phones in fatal crashes.
Driving in traffic can be stressful. Montes said patience is the best practice.
“Road rage begins when drivers let their emotions get the best of them for minor traffic interactions with other vehicles,” she said. “If you find yourself in a situation where an unfavorable interaction has occurred, don’t make eye contact. Don’t use hand gestures. Never stop your car to engage another driver. If you feel that a situation is escalating, call 911 and drive to a safe location.”
Montes added, “Pack your patience and bring the kids plenty of activities to keep the driver’s stress level down.”
Drivers can use 511 to get updated traffic conditions throughout the state. Visit https://fl511.com/#:Alerts.
It’s no secret that drunk driving is still a problem on the roads, but “buzzed” driving is not any less dangerous, Montes said.
“Buzzed driving can be from illegal drugs or even prescription drugs,” Montes said. “Drivers need to be aware that some of the prescription drugs that are taken cause impairment and users are advised not to drive while on these medications. Drivers using illegal drugs have caused numerous crashes while operating vehicles. Those drivers will be criminally charged for DUI.”
Any motorist that sees a dangerous driver on the road or if they want to report a crash can call *FHP (*347).
“If you are one of the 43.5 million people on the road, we urge you to be patient in traffic and limit distractions while behind the wheel,” Richardson said.