• 61°

Safety should be the focus of travel this holiday

More than 55 million people will travel more than 50 miles from their homes for Thanksgiving, according to AAA figures.

And since the vast majority of those will drive, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the state Department of Health are urging drivers this Thanksgiving to reach their destinations safely by avoiding distractions and buckling up.

The heaviest traffic is expected on Wednesday and Thursday.

MHP will begin the 2019 Thanksgiving Holiday Enforcement Period Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. It will conclude Sunday at midnight.

“State troopers will place emphasis on saturation patrols to combat speeding, promote seatbelt usage and prevent reckless driving,” said Capt. John Poulos, director of the MHP public affairs division. “Drivers should avoid text messaging or any driver distraction that could endanger lives and have sober designated drivers in place when necessary.”

During the period in 2018, MHP investigated 200 crashes with five fatalities and made 98 DUI arrests on state and federal highway systems.

“We are asking motorists to join with us in making the roadways safer in Mississippi and to include safe driving as part of their holiday traveling plans,” he said.

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for traveling, said MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath.

“Motorists should expect extra vehicles on Mississippi roadways,” she said. “All drivers should take extra precautions to ensure they, and their families, arrive safely at their holiday destinations.”

With more vehicles on state highways, MDOT urges all motorists to avoid driving distracted. Research shows sending or receiving text messages takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent — at 55 miles per hour — of traveling the length of a football field blind, McGrath said. Drivers who use a hand-held device are four times more likely to get into a serious crash.

“Drivers have one job when they are behind the wheel — just drive,” she said. “Don’t let text messages and phone calls take your attention. They can wait. If it’s urgent, find a safe place to stop or have a passenger assist.”

No matter your Thanksgiving destination, safety should be your top priority. MDOT offers these tips for safe driving this Thanksgiving:

• Plan ahead. The MDOT Traffic mobile app shows real-time road conditions along your travel route.

• Get plenty of rest before driving. Remember to plan frequent stops if traveling long distances.

• Remain patient. With more vehicles on the road, delays are possible along your regular routes.

• Buckle up. Seat belt use is one of the easiest and most effective ways to save lives and reduce injuries from a possible crash.

• Always use caution in work zones. Road workers also want to make it home safely to their families for the holidays.

• Watch out for wildlife. Cooler temperatures mean deer and other wildlife are more active near highways. Use extra caution if traveling during the time of dusk and dawn.

• Do not drive impaired. If you plan to drink, make sure you have a designated driver.

MDOT crews and contractors will limit road construction requiring lane closures beginning Wednesday afternoon. All construction will halt Thursday and will resume Monday. This will provide maximum travel capacity and minimal construction delays to motorists traveling throughout the state during the holiday weekend.

“Even though most highway construction will halt across the state, motorists should be aware that some lane closures will remain in place,” McGrath said. “Lane closures are there to protect motorists, and MDOT urges drivers to treat these areas as active work zones.

Oversize and overweight hauling will also be restricted beginning at noon Wednesday and may resume normal travel on Friday. This does not apply to permitted loads that have 24-hour movement.

For more tips on traveling safe this holiday seaton, visit GoMDOT.com/drivesmartms.