Thanksgiving means turkey and pumpkin pie, but it also marks the beginning of the busiest travel season of the year. About 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more on Thanksgiving in 2013, according to estimates from AAA, and 90 percent of them will travel by car.
Travelers hitting the road this holiday need to be more cautious than ever. The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and New Year's typically are some of the deadliest on roadways in Georgia and around the U.S. According to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS), there were more than 39,000 traffic crashes on Georgia roads from Nov. 20 to Dec. 31 last year, resulting in 153 deaths.
"Our message to all Georgians is a plea to slow down and use caution on our roads during this busy season," said GOHS Director Harris Blackwood.
Here are a few ways Georgians can stay safe during holiday travel:
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Before you leave home, familiarize yourself with the route you'll take, and be prepared to change plans if weather or traffic closes a road. The time of day you choose for traveling is also an important part of staying safe. The GOHS reports that most fatal crashes occur between Saturday night at 9 p.m. and Sunday morning at 5 a.m., a time when drunk driving, speeding and driving without a seat belt all increase, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Let your family or friends know which route you're taking and when you plan to arrive.
BE READY FOR ANYTHING: Be sure your car is ready for a safe journey by checking things like tires, air bags, brakes, wipers, and fluid levels in advance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also recommends carrying an emergency kit, including supplies such as water, food, flashlights, a first aid kit, medicines, extra clothing and a cell phone charger. Speaking of cell phones, it's always good to have one handy in case of an emergency. But of course, drivers should limit calls and never text while on the road.
BUCKLE UP AND DRIVE SOBER: You've heard it a million times, but the message is simple and important: always wear a seat belt and never drink and drive. According to the NHTSA, 64 percent of people killed in crashes during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday were not wearing seat belts. The GOHS has cracked down on unbelted drivers with the "Click It or Ticket" campaign, and highway officials will continue it during the Thanksgiving holiday this year.
"Seat belts have saved more lives than any other single piece of automotive safety equipment," Blackwood said. "But in order for them to work, they have to be used and they have to be used correctly."
For the first time, GOHS is also launching its “Season for Safety” campaign, an effort to remind everyone traveling on Georgia roads to buckle up and drive sober. During December 2010, 30 percent of the nearly 2,600 people killed in crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver. The GOHS said if Georgians plan to drink alcohol, they should plan a sober way home before the festivities begin. Blackwood noted that driving while sleepy is just as dangerous as driving drunk.
"If you must drive late in the day, make sure you are adequately alert behind the wheel," he said.