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Safe travels: Officials stress safety on the roads this holiday weekend

By Staff | Sep 3, 2011

Local law enforcement is stressing safe responsible driving this Labor Day weekend, even with fewer people expected to take to Florida’s roadways.

AAA estimates that 1.4 million people statewide will travel via automobile this holiday weekend, a .7 percent decrease from 2010. Air travel in Florida is anticipated to decrease by 3.2 percent this year to 108,044 travelers.

Other modes of transportation, including buses and trains, are expected to see the biggest decrease from year to year – 34.6 percent to 62,994.

Overall, AAA estimates that 1.5 million people in Florida will travel this holiday weekend, a 3 percent decrease from the total travelers in 2010.

Despite the drop in road traffic this year, authorities are reminding motorists that they can have fun this holiday weekend, but be smart.

The Cape Coral Police Department, along with other local law enforcement agencies, will be cracking down on impaired drivers through campaign efforts such as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” and “Over the Limit-Under Arrest.”

“Historically, it’s one of those weekends when there’s a traditional spike in impaired drivers,” Lt. Tony Sizemore, spokesman for the CCPD, said.

In addition to increasing patrols, Cape police conducted a citywide roving saturation patrol from Friday night to early Saturday morning. Studies have shown that this is when the greatest concentration of fatalities related to impaired driving is likely to occur.

“The detection and arresting of impaired drivers is not the ultimate goal of any campaign,” Sizemore said. “It is a means to an end, and that end is fewer impaired-driving related crashes and fatalities in Cape Coral.”

He noted that the city was recently ranked one of the safest in the state, and that there was a 10 percent drop in crashes for the first half of 2011.

“These efforts are one of the main reasons for this positive trend,” he said.

Leading up to the Labor Day weekend, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Myers Police Department have been conducting sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols. They will continue to do so up through the weekend.

“We encourage responsible behavior by everybody, as always,” Lt. Jim Drzymala, commander of the LCSO Traffic Unit, said. “We want people to have a fun holiday weekend, but a safe holiday weekend.”

If you plan to consume alcoholic beverages, have a designated driver or a plan in place to call a cab or stay where you are until you are sober to drive.

AAA is offering its Tow to Go program through Monday. It provides a confidential ride and tow home from any bar or restaurant – free of charge – to anyone who may have had too much to drink. You do not have to be a AAA member to use the service. Simply call 800-AAA-HELP (222-4357).

“If you drink and drive, you’re not just jeopardizing your own life, you’re jeopardizing the lives of others,” Drzymala said.

Deputies will be on the lookout for roadway behavior that is indicative of impaired driving, including weaving in and out of traffic, failing to maintain a lane, speeding up then slowing down, and forgetting to turn headlights on.

“There are a combination of violations that we look for,” he said.

Residents also can expect an increased presence on local waterways.

For all automobile travelers this holiday weekend, authorities urge people to use common sense and obey all of the usual traffic laws and safety rules.

“Any time you get behind the wheel, we ask that you use your seat belt,” Sizemore said.

Drzymala recommended that people plan their day accordingly so they are not in a rush. Stay off of the cell phone while driving, and if you must use the phone, pull over to a safe location on the side of the road or in a parking lot.

“Pay attention to where you’re going,” he said.

“Really, just road rules safety 101,” Drzymala said.

Anyone who suspects that a driver is impaired should contact the CCPD by dialing 911. Outside the Cape, callers can dial *FHP or the LCSO at 477-1000.

“Drunk driving is simply not worth the risk,” Col. David Brierton, director of the Florida Highway Patrol, said in a prepared statement. “Not only do you risk killing yourself or someone else, but also the trauma and financial costs of a crash or an arrest for impaired driving can be significant.”

“Violators often face jail time, the loss of their driver’s license, higher insurance rates, attorney fees, time away from work and dozens of other expenses,” he said. “Do not the chance. Our troopers will pull you over if your do not drive sober.”

Despite a decrease in the number of automobile travelers taking to the roadways this Labor Day weekend in Florida, AAA is estimating an increase nationwide. About 27.3 million people plan to hit the streets, a .5 percent jump over last year’s figure of 27.2 million.

About 8 percent of holiday travelers will fly, while about 5 percent of travelers will use other modes of transportation – both decreases from 2010. Overall, an estimated 31.5 million Americans will travel this holiday weekend, a 2.4 percent decrease from 31.5 million travelers last year.