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Police advise motorists to take care this holiday weekend

By Staff | May 23, 2009

Millions more people will be hitting the roads this Memorial Day weekend with the hope of economic recovery on the horizon and an overall drop in gas prices from last year, travel officials say.
In other words, people are ready for a vacation and they’re becoming more comfortable paying for it.
But with the increased road traffic throughout the United States this weekend–an estimated 1.3 million in Florida, according to AAA Club South–officials are emphasizing safety amongst motorists and police are stepping up patrols.
The Cape Coral Police Department began the weekend with a DUI checkpoint Friday evening, and will be well-prepared for driving-related issues, according to spokesperson Sgt. Lisa Barnes.
“Hopefully there will be no traffic issues and no major crashes, but there will be traffic enforcement all weekend long,” Barnes said. “We will have plenty of people available to help with any issues.”
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol also are increasing their enforcement efforts this holiday.
“Every year during this time we do increase our patrols,” said Tony Schall, a spokesperson for LCSO. “We’re looking out for anybody who’s not following the rules of the road or may be intoxicated, speeding, or careless driving. We know there’re more people out on the roads traditionally this time of year, and that’s why we’ll increase our presence out there this time of year as well.”
The Florida Highway Patrol will increase its presence on highways and state roads this weekend, bringing in administrative officers and volunteer Auxiliary and Reserve troopers to aid in the effort.
Motorists can also report aggressive driving or ask for motorist assistance by calling *347.
They are also participating in Operation CARE, All American Buckle Up week, and Click It or Ticket, campaigns which “focus on saving lives, preventing injuries and mitigating property damage associated with traffic crashes,” according to a written release Friday.
FHP director Colonel John T. Czernis is quoted as saying, “Vehicle traffic is expected to increase throughout the state during the extended holiday weekend. The Florida Highway Patrol will use our resources to make Florida’s roadways safer by reminding drivers to slow down and buckle up. Our troopers have a single goal in mind — to save lives and reduce serious injuries associated with traffic crashes.”
Police also warn motorists to remember that a new Florida law, which allows officers to stop vehicles specifically for seatbelt violations, goes into effect June 30.
Nationwide, AAA Club South predicts 32.4 million people will travel this holiday, at an increase of 1.5 percent from Memorial Day weekend 2008. Florida will see a 3 percent increase in travel, 83 percent of that increase being car travel, the organization predicts.
Why the increase?
AAA spokesperson Gregg Laskoski said gas prices and a more optimistic economic outlook have a lot to do with it.
“Last year the recession was just beginning to take its grip on the economy, as prices were moving in this direction it was discouraging a lot of people and a lot of them postponed leisure travel plans,” Laskoski said. “There’s pent up demand to travel and people want to get out and go.”
The average price of gasoline in 2008 was about $3.85 a gallon, and though gas prices are edging higher, the average now is about $2.39 a gallon, noticeably lower, Laskoski said.
But AAA is also aware of the increased potential for incidents on the roadways this weekend, and beseeches drivers to take care.
“Avoid any distractions that could take your mind and your eyes away from the road in front of you,” Laskoski said.
That includes not using cell phones, being prepared for roadway congestion, wearing safety belts, and giving yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, he said.
“A lot of folks traveling may be less familiar with the roadways they’re driving on,” Laskoski said.
Laskoski also suggests making sure vehicles are in good running order, checking things such as tire pressure and fluid levels, before hitting the roads.
Motorists can mitigate their Memorial Day worries by use the Florida Department of Transportation 511 phone system, which will provide real-time travel information regarding roadway conditions on Florida interstate highways, toll roads, and various metropolitan roads. Drivers can also access the information at www.FL511.com