FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – This Thanksgiving, travel is expected to rebound to nearly pre-pandemic levels. AAA is predicting that 48.3 million people will be hitting the road for the holiday, an 8% increase from last year. However, increased traffic, combined with declining seat belt use and impaired driving, this travel period is particularly dangerous for road users.
Due to this, Indiana State Police (ISP) is joining hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the state for the Safe Family Travel campaign. Over the next six weeks, officers will be out in greater numbers to discourage impaired driving and ensure everyone inside the vehicle are properly buckled.
The high-visibility patrols are funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) and will concentrate around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
“Driving impaired, not wearing a seat belt and speeding are always concerns around this time of year,” said Lt. Corey Culler, District Commander for the Fort Wayne Post. “That’s why we’re increasing patrols and encouraging those traveling to buckle up, drive sober and slow down. It’s better to be late and reach your destination safely, than not at all.”
In Indiana and nationwide, reckless driving incidents remain higher than during pre-pandemic times. ISP said that as of early October, 683 people have been killed in crashes statewide. This is an 8% increase from the same time in 2019 and on pace with 2020 – one of the deadliest years in the past decade.
With one of the busiest travel periods still ahead, officers will be working to reverse this trend by focusing on impaired and unrestrained driving, two of the main causes behind the rise in fatalities.
Of the total number of vehicle occupants killed in crashes so far this year, over 40% were not wearing seat belts. ISP said seat belt use in Indiana declined for the first time in five years from 94.9% before the pandemic to 92.9%.
“Whether you’re driving for 10 minutes or 10 hours, we’re asking everyone to plan ahead and make safety their top priority,” said Devon McDonald, ICJI Executive Director. “Don’t be the reason there’s an empty seat at your table or someone else’s this Thanksgiving.”
ISP is reminding motorists that most traffic fatalities can be prevented by taking some simple precautions: never drive impaired, always wear a seat belt, follow posted speed limits and avoid distractions.
Before consuming alcohol, plan a sober ride home, such as a designated driver, using a ride service or public transportation. Motorists are encouraged to call 911 if they encounter an impaired or unsafe driver on the road.
In addition to impaired driving, winter weather also poses challenges for motorists, and it’s important to be prepared.
Drivers are encouraged to always have an emergency kit in the vehicle with food, water, a phone charger, sand or cat litter, flares or bright LED alternatives, a flashlight and blankets. Keep the vehicle full of gas, and make sure the battery is strong, fluids are at the correct levels and the spare tire is properly inflated.