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Labor Day weekend likely to see uptick in alcohol-related crashes

Labor Day weekend is the least traveled holiday of the year for motorists or air travelers, but it’s one of the most dangerous as drunk-driving fatalities spike.

Crowded roads and higher gas prices will greet motorists as they head out this weekend for what AAA expects to be the busiest Labor Day for travel in more than a decade.

The number of Ohioans traveling for the holiday is projected to rise 8.2 percent when compared with this past year, due to the growing economy and a consumer confidence rate that hit near an 18-year high this month, according to AAA.

“It’s appropriate to finish off a busy summer travel season with a busy Labor Day,” Kathy Schwind of AAA Ohio said.

About 85 percent of Labor Day weekend travelers opt to drive to their destination, according to AAA. At the same time, the Ohio Department of Transportation has about 550 projects on highways and bridges under construction in the state.

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“Historically, Labor Day is the least traveled holiday as the three-day weekend coincides with families preparing children for school the following Tuesday,” said AAA spokeswoman Kara Hitchens. “As a result, we are seeing many families making plans to stay closer to home or take one tank trips to make the most of the last days of summer.”

But staying at home does not mean being safer.

Labor Day is one of the most fatal, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Due to the spike in alcohol-related fatalities, NHTSA is running a new campaign through the end of Labor Day weekend — If you feel different, you drive different.

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In 2016, 37,461 Americans died in crashes, with 28 percent related to alcohol-impaired driving. But during Labor Day weekend the same year, 43 percent of road fatalities across the nation involved drivers who had been drinking, up 15 percent from the nations usual rate.

“A lot of the traffic fatalities are because someone made a bad decision or a bad choice,” said Lt. Mark Nichols of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

In Ohio, 34 percent of 2017 traffic fatalities were OVI-related, compared to 41 percent during Labor Day weekend, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety. There were also 1,199 injuries resulting from 3,070 crashes during the 2017 holiday in Ohio.

“Safety should not take a backseat while celebrating,” Hitchens said. “Driving while impaired is illegal and puts the driver, passengers and other road users at risk of serious injury or death.”

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To prepare for the traffic flow that comes with summer holidays, Nichols said every trooper at the Dayton post, and across the state, is scheduled to work this weekend. There will also be 24/7 supervisor coverage.

“If you find yourself out, and you’ve had too much to drink, or you’ve consumed alcohol, or you’re questioning whether you should drive, don’t drive,” Nichols said. “Call a cab, call an Uber, stay where you’re at, call a family member.”

Drivers also need to wear their seat belts, put down their phones and avoid driving distractions during the weekend for the best chances of avoiding an accident, Nichols said.

“When people are out driving, that’s where we want their focus to be — driving. Everybody has somewhere to go, they have a destination they want to get to, but when you’re behind the wheel of a car, we want them to be focused on driving.”

September is already one of the deadliest driving months in Ohio, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics. The five-year fatality count for August comes in at most traffic deaths, but September is a close second at 560 fatalities between 2013 and 2017.

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The crashes are more deadly during these months because drivers are moving at higher speeds and road surfaces during summer months don’t offer conditions that help transfer some of the energy away from a vehicle during a crash, Sgt. Chris Colbert of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said in August.

“We are prepared to handle everything from a broken down car or a tire change through responding to crashes through aggressive traffic enforcement,” Nichols said. “The expectation of our troopers is to be prepared and ready to respond in every facet of our job.”

Labor Day travelers will pay more at the pump when they head out. The average price in this area for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.81 on Wednesday, according to AAA. That’s up 11 cents per gallon from a month ago and up 52 cents from a year ago at this time.

An estimated 16.5 million passengers are expected to fly worldwide on United States carriers over the week-long Labor Day travel period, according to Airlines for America.

Friday will be the busiest for passenger traffic, with an estimated 2.76 million passengers taking to the skies on U.S. airlines.

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