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Don’t be a statistic this Christmas holiday

Watch out if traveling US Hwy. 49 from the “Coast to the Capital” Friday.

Troopers will be out in force as they kick off the annual Christmas travel enforcement period with an emphasis on safety awareness on Hwy. 49.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, troopers will be aiming a watchful eye on the heavily traveled highway from Gulfport to Jackson and everything in between, said Capt. Johnny Poulos, director of the public affairs division of the MHP.

“This high visibility safety initiative is designed to ensure safe holiday travel for motorists and combat reckless driving along with speeding and distracted driving issues,” he said.

“They’re pulling troopers out of other districts,” said Cpl. Brandon Fortenberry, who regularly patrols in Lincoln County. His district, though, won’t be leaving this area, and they’ll be on the lookout for drivers who are speeding or distracted on Lincoln County state highways and I-55.

They’ll also be looking for drivers and passengers not using their seat restraints. “Keep the restraints buckled,” Fortenberry said.

He pointed out that several individuals have been ejected from vehicles in accidents statewide this month. “Had they buckled up, they could have prevented an injury,” he said. “It could be something as simple as buckling a seatbelt that might save your life.”

The official travel enforcement period across the state begins at 6 p.m. Friday and continues through 11:59 p.m. Monday.

MHP investigated 250 crashes including five fatalities during the 2015 Christmas enforcement period.

“With the anticipation of heavy holiday traffic, all available manpower will also be utilized on all state, federal, and interstate systems,” Poulos said.

He recommends that drivers give themselves enough time to get where they’re headed so they won’t need to speed. “Plan ahead,” he said. “Don’t be in a rush. Safety checkpoints will be conducted by troopers in order to enforce child restraint and seatbelt laws while also removing impaired drivers. We urge motorists who are preparing to travel on the roadways to allow sufficient travel time and include safe driving as part of their plan.”

Fortenberry added that many drivers will be out doing their last-minute shopping. “People will be stressed out and not paying attention,” he said.