Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest travel times of the year in Virginia and across the country, which increases the risk of being involved in a serious or deadly car accident.
In fact, this time of year is often described as the most dangerous holiday period for driving. A year ago, the Virginia State Police reported that car crashes caused 11 deaths during the Thanksgiving weekend, with alcohol playing a role in at least four of those fatalities, according to news reports.
The National Safety Council predicts that there will be 418 traffic fatalities and another 44,700 injuries requiring medical attention because of car crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year. The NSC bases this prediction on a four-day weekend, beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, November 26, and lasting through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, November 30.
In its annual holiday travel projection for 2013, the AAA Auto Club said it expected 43.4 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Ninety percent of those travelers were expected to drive cars – or around 39 million people.
Last year, AAA predicted a decrease of 1.5 percent from the 44 million people who traveled in 2012, but with the drop in gas prices this year, we would bet on the number rising for this year’s holiday weekend.
Here in Virginia, the Department of Transportation (VDOT) assists motorists each year by lifting lane closures during a five-day Thanksgiving travel period in order to keep interstates and highways clear for motorists as they travel to their holiday destinations.
The VDOT’s five-day Thanksgiving holiday period is from noon Wednesday, November 26, to noon Monday, December 1.
The VDOT says the heaviest congestion is most likely to occur:
- After noon on Wednesday
- After noon on Saturday and Sunday.
How to Stay Safe on Virginia Roads
The VDOT and NSC offer several safety tips for Thanksgiving travel:
- Buckle up for every trip, every time – even when traveling short distances. Out of the 11 people who died on Virginia roads last Thanksgiving, eight were not wearing seat belts, the VSP reported.
- Secure children in size-appropriate restraints.
- Avoid distracted driving by refraining from all electronic device use – including hands-free devices – while behind the wheel.
- Share the road with other motorists, motorcyclists and bicyclists.
- Drive drug- and alcohol-free. Impairment begins with the first drink. If you drink, designate a sober driver or take alternate transportation.
- Obey speed limits and never drive faster than road and weather conditions allow.
- Do not spend too much time behind the wheel. Divide a long trip or take several rest breaks. (If you are not convinced this is necessary, then check out this recent Today Show report about the dangers of drowsy driving. It may change your mind.)
Meanwhile, motorists who are traveling can count on some help from Mother Nature. The Accuweather forecast for the Richmond area calls for freezing temperatures only during the overnight hours on Friday and Saturday. The only rain is predicted for early Wednesday, with spotty showers for Friday.
If you are traveling to the mountains of Virginia, you can expect colder temperatures, of course. However, there are currently no predictions for snow.