Holiday driving surge to make roads riskier

/ Source: The Associated Press

Because Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Saturdays this season, federal transportation officials predict a record number of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations, increasing the possibility of deadly crashes.

AAA estimates that 51 million people will be on the roads, up 2.9 percent from last year. That’s the largest number projected in the 11 years AAA has been forecasting holiday travel.

“These two long weekends will mean more concentrated travel, so expect crowded roads, increased delays and risky driving behavior,” AAA President Robert Darbelnet said.

Busier roads will increase the risk of deadly accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. The agency is predicting 136 deaths a day on Dec. 24-26 and Dec. 31-Jan. 2. NHTSA said 45 percent of those accidents will involve drivers with blood-alcohol levels of .08 or higher.

Last year, 512 people died over the Christmas holiday and 530 over the New Year’s holiday, NHTSA officials said. The holidays were considered a four-day period last year. They are considered a three-day holidays this year, so it’s difficult to compare NHTSA’s data from year to year. Forty-eight percent of the accidents in 2003 involved drunken drivers, NHTSA said.

Every state will have sobriety checkpoints, ad campaigns or other ways of cracking down on drunken drivers this season, the Governors Highway Safety Association said.

“Police will be enforcing the law this holiday season, and there will be no exceptions and no excuses,” said Col. Jim Champagne, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association.