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Thanksgiving rush: Police presence high on nation’s roadways

Thanksgiving rush: Police presence high on nation’s roadways
New York State Police (NYSP) troopers conduct seat belt safety checkpoints this week. The checkpoints will continue throughout Thanksgiving weekend. (Courtesy: NYSP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Beware: Law enforcement agencies around the nation are looking for lead-footed, unbuckled drivers who may be a little too anxious to make it to grandmother’s house this week for their Thanksgiving feasts.

State troopers in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, which comprise Region 7 of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are planning “Click It or Ticket” campaigns that will run throughout Thanksgiving weekend.

Colonel Bill Bryant, director of the Arkansas State Police (ASP) and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative, said that his troopers will be out in full force to ensure everyone gets to their destinations safely.

“State troopers and other law enforcement officers too often are left to witness the tragic consequences when someone has chosen to ignore the most basic form of protecting themselves, a seat belt, as they travel the highway,” Bryant said.

“All motorists, whether traveling in state or out of state, are encouraged to check weather conditions before beginning the trip and be aware of the options for assistance available in neighboring states.”

Colonel Herman Jones, superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol, said his agency stamps a “ditto” on Arkansas’s plans to stop unsafe drivers.

“Safety, family and friendships do not end at our state lines,” Jones said. “Kansas will travel across state lines for Thanksgiving and many from neighboring states will visit family and friends in Kansas. To keep everyone safe across the region, we’re teaming up with our partner state agencies to let all motorists know that troopers will on the road, working to keep all travelers safe.”

In Iowa, Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau Chief Brett Tjepkes said his state’s safety campaign focuses on urging drivers to slow down, buckle up, drive sober and remain distraction-free heading into the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

State officials cite speeding as a major problem, and the state patrol has been cracking down, issuing more than twice as many tickets in 2020 compared to 2019.

Iowa officials say they will continue to strive for fewer than 300 annual traffic deaths, but it won’t happen in 2021.

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The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that as of Friday, Iowa traffic death count stood at 312. Iowa Department of Transportation officials say that outpaces the death toll for the same date in the four previous years, but it was below the 350 count by the same time in 2016 — the last year that highway crashes claimed more than 400 lives.

Texas Highway Patrol Troopers will increase enforcement on the roads from Nov. 24-28. Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers will be looking for people not wearing seat belts, driving while intoxicated, speeding and failing to follow the Move Over, Slow Down law, among other traffic violations, according to a news release.

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“This Thanksgiving more people will be out and it’s important to remember it’s up to each one of us to keep the roads safe,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “DPS will do its part to keep Texas safe by holding people accountable, and we want everyone who may be driving for the holiday to do their part by obeying all traffic laws, so everyone gets to their destinations unharmed.”

In New York, state police are setting up checkpoints to ensure that drivers are buckled up.

“Make sure you are buckling that seat belt every time you get behind the wheel – and your passengers too!” a New York State Police Facebook post exclaimed. “Not only is it the law, it could save your life!”

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) will be conducting emphasis patrols through Nov. 28 as Washington State University (WSU) students travel across the state for the Thanksgiving holiday break.

District 4 troopers in Spokane, Whitman and Adams counties and District 6 troopers in Grant and Kittitas counties will be focusing on speeding to include driving too fast for conditions, distracted/impaired driving and other collision-causing violations during the emphasis, according to a news release.

“Motorists traveling to and from WSU will see an increased WSP presence on state routes 26 and 195 as well as Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass,” the news release stated.

“We encourage travelers to pay close attention to posted speed limits and to be prepared for changing road and weather/winter driving conditions.”

According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA), during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, from 2015-2019, nearly 800 people died in crashes involving a drunk driver.

“The holiday period begins on Thanksgiving Eve when we typically see people begin to gather with family and friends,” a NHSA news release stated. “In fact, from 2015-2019, 135 drivers involved in fatal crashes on Thanksgiving Eve were drunk. It’s important to understand even a small amount of alcohol can affect a person quickly. For example, someone with a blood alcohol concentration of .02 can have some loss of judgment.”

In Tennessee, officials have announced the Tennessee Safe Travel Challenge, which is planned for Nov. 24-28. The challenge consists of an increase presence by the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), as well as other law enforcement officials across the state.

According to a THP news release, “law enforcement will focus their attention along the I-40 corridor. I-40 spans the length of Tennessee, encompassing 455 miles, and runs 2,555 miles through eight states, including North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.  The THP will continue statewide enforcement on all Tennessee roadways during the holiday season.”

TSP Colonel Matt Perry said his agency’s mission is simple: “To prevent traffic deaths. One loss of life is never acceptable. We can prevent traffic-related injuries and deaths by driving the speed limit, buckling our seat belts, never driving distracted, and never driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

In 2020, there were 26 crashes on the Wednesday before and 30 crashes on the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday on I-40, THP statistics show.  One of the crashes was alcohol-related. THP issued 2,209 speeding and 498 seat belt citations and arrested 111 individuals for impaired driving.

Over the 108-hour holiday period, there were six fatal crashes, three of the fatalities were alcohol-related, and three people killed were not wearing seat belts.

“Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on everything we have been blessed with,” said Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Jeff Long.

“The Tennessee Highway Patrol will do everything in their power to ensure there’s not an empty seat at your family’s dinner table. We want our citizens and visitors to get to and from their destinations safely.”

Driving under the influence is apparently so bad in Minnesota that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (MDPS) has dubbed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving “Blackout Wednesday.”

“Over the past five years (2016-20), more than 115,640 people have been arrested for DWI,” a MDPS news release stated. “That’s over 23,000 DWI arrests each year. And during the last five years, more than 11,000 people have been arrested for DWI from the day before Thanksgiving through Dec. 30.”

“People come home from college and go on a bender with friends they haven’t seen for months,” according to the MDPS. “Or, knowing they don’t have to work for four days, indulge a little too much because they know they’ll have time to recover from the hangover. And with the pandemic affecting the ability to get together last year, people may want to make up for lost time. Whatever the reason, Blackout Wednesday is an extremely dangerous night on the roads.​”

John Worthen

Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.

Avatar for John Worthen
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.
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