Officials urge driver caution as holiday travelers hit the road
As Labor Day nears more drivers will be on the road for the holiday weekend.
AAA Travel Manager Marsha Kut said about 34.4 million people nationwide will travel during Labor Day weekend this year, which is an increase of 9.9 percent over the 31.3 million who traveled last year.
Those traveling in Florida will see an increase of about 4.1 percent, or an increase of a million and a half people, Kut said. She said the travel is up in the state of Florida despite the Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
With the additional traffic on the roadways, officials are raising awareness to keep drivers from turning drowsy, or driving while impaired, while they are traveling this weekend.
The Florida Department of Transportation has designated Sept. 5 through Sept. 10, 2010 as the Drowsy Driving Awareness Week.
Yearly statistics state that more than 1,500 fatalities occur in the United States due to drowsiness.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year driver fatigue results in 100,000 police-reported crashes, 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
Those who are most prone to falling asleep at the wheel include young people from the ages of 16 to 29, especially males, workers who experience disrupted sleep due to working at night or working long irregular hours and individuals with untreated sleep apnea syndrome and narcolepsy.
Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Larry King said travelers feeling drowsy while at the wheel is not necessarily just a concern for holiday weekends, it is a hazard all the time.
A contributing cause to drowsy drivers is due to the number of hours they work, King said.
“Make sure to take plenty of breaks,” King said. “Make sure you have enough rest and when you start to feel drowsy pull off and take a break.”
Other helpful hints to beat drowsiness while driving is to make sure you get a good night’s sleep before hitting the road, bringing a friend or loved one with you so the driving can be shared and always drive sober.
King said although they provide an increase in enforcement efforts for all holidays, they make sure they step up their patrol on holidays that have people engaging in the use of alcohol.
The traffic unit will have a DUI check point this weekend, King said.
Checkpoints are held to remove impaired drivers from the roadways, reduce the likelihood of impaired drivers operating their vehicle, heighten awareness and educate the public to the dangers of drunk driving.
“We encourage motorists if they see impaired drivers to report them through the Mobile Eyes program,” he said. Individuals who see an impaired driver are encouraged to call 911 and mention the program to the operator.
They are eligible for a $50 award if the impaired driver gets arrested, King said.
The marine units also will be out in visible areas on the water to watch boaters as well, he said.
Although Labor Day is not the most dangerous holiday, King said it is one of the higher ranking ones for drunk driving.
Those who engage in drinking this weekend are encouraged to check into services that are available to drive them home.
“We encourage people to drink responsibly,” King said.
He also encourages those who are hosting parties at their homes to be responsible and have control of everyone’s keys, so they can make sure someone does not drive off impaired.
“We anticipate a safe weekend,” King said.
Kut said AAA and Budweiser offer a free program called “Tow to Go,” which began to help keep drunk drivers off the roads.
She said you do not have to be a member of AAA to use the program, all you have to do is call 800-222-4357 and tell the operator your name and where you are.
“No matter where you are, they collect your keys and load your vehicle while you are sitting inside the establishment and take you home safely,” she said.
The safety program has been in existence since 1988, she said, and they have already helped 11,600 drivers who felt they may have had too much to drink home.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “I don’t know anyone else that does that. You don’t have to be a member with AAA to get that service. That is really a commitment.”
She said it is a great program because people tend to not want to leave their car at the bar or restaurant.
Kut said although more travelers will be hitting the roads Labor Day weekend the average distance traveled has declined by 10 miles, 645 miles last year to 635 miles this year, AAA reports.
Although they are not traveling as far, drivers are expected to spend about $50 more this year, Kut said.
The average gas price will range between $2.65 to $2.75 a gallon, she said.