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Expect company on the roads

Though a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends can be fun and relaxing, arriving at your destination can sometimes be a chore.

Once again, authorities expect state and county roads to be packed after a three-year lapse. AAA Alabama spokesperson Clay Ingram said rising gas prices kept many families at home in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but the trend is expected to fall for 2011.

“Driving AAA’s projected increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers is pent-up demand from Americans who may have foregone holiday travel in the last three years,” Ingram said. “As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality.”

A decline in gas prices has always opened the door for more motorists to hit the road this Thanksgiving. According to GasBuddy.com senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan, prices are at their lowest level in more than eight months. However, he said prices are expected to rise again.

“Gasoline prices have continued their slow decline in the last week across a solid majority of the United States with the national average sagging to its lowest level since this past February,” he said. “Many motorists may be giving thanks for the lower gasoline prices until they realize that average prices will still easily exceed prior Thanksgiving Day records.”

Unfortunately, statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Safety indicate the higher number of motorists usually leads to more accidents.

When alcohol is added to the mix, the roads become even more dangerous.

Last year, 12 died on Alabama’s roadways during the Thanksgiving weekend and Alabama state troopers estimate that alcohol was a factor in more than half of those fatalities.

The Alabama Department of Transportation will begin a 102-hour initiative from 6 p.m. Wednesday to midnight Sunday with all available troopers patrolling Alabama roads.

The department said it expects traffic to be heavier than usual during this year’s extended holiday period, and will aggressively enforce traffic laws.

Troopers will target such dangerous behavior as driving under the influence, speeding, distracted driving and following too closely. Not only can these driving behaviors cause crashes, but they can contribute to more severe crashes,” said Col. Hugh B. McCall, director of Public Safety.

Alcohol was a factor in seven of the 12 fatalities and 10 of the 12 killed were not wearing seat belts.

McCall said motorists can increase their odds of avoiding an accident by obeying all traffic laws, observing speed limits, buckling up and avoiding driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,

“Our goal is to make a positive difference on our state’s highways. It’s about saving lives and preventing crashes,” he said.

Locally, Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley also said his department will be out in full force.

The department, he said, will have heavy patrols around the Selma Mall, but will also blanket the city to keep an eye out for other crimes.

“The goal is to make sure the area is as safe as possible and assist the highway patrol as much as possible,” he said. “We’ll also have a burglary detail as well out there so we won’t get pulled off that detail too much.

“We’ll have unmarked vehicles.”

Riley said the increased patrols will continue through January.


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