SIKESTON - Despite high gasoline prices, millions of motorists will share highways on their way to grandma's house, stores and other destinations as the annual travel season begins once again.
"The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the most traveled holidays we have in the state of Missouri," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett, public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "It will be one of our busier weeks."
In an effort to make travel safer, the Patrol will have every available patrolmen on duty. "Anybody that's not on vacation or extended leave," Plunkett said. "We will have as many as 800 to 900 troopers out this weekend."
Troopers will look for speeding and other moving violations as well as intoxicated drivers. "The goal is reduce the number of people killed and injured during the holiday weekend," he explained.
Last year during this holiday travel period in Missouri there were nearly 1,400 traffic crashes. In these accidents, 21 people were killed and 546 injured. "That means about one person was killed or injured every 10.8 minutes during the Thanksgiving holiday period," Plunkett said. "It's a terrible way to spend our weekend - working a fatality crash and having to notify family members that someone has been hurt or killed in an automobile accident."
Motorists can do their part, as well, in working toward a tragedy-free holiday by using a "common-sense approach," Plunkett said. "We need them to leave a bit early, obey the speed limits and try to leave plenty of room between them and other vehicles that are out on the roadway. If everyone would use just a little extra caution, we could reduce the number of people killed or injured.
"The single greatest thing we all can do is put on a seat belt because we know that accidents are still going to happen. Three out of four people killed in Missouri traffic accidents don't have a seat belt on at the time of the crash."
Weather forecasts are predicting cool, overcast weather. In the event there are rain showers, Plunkett cautioned that "roadways do tend to get slick." With all the extra vehicles on the road, "everybody needs to kind of plan accordingly," he said.
While less tragic than a death or bodily harm, being a crime victim is also a less-than-ideal event to experience during the holidays.
The National Crime Prevention Council advised those on the road should "lock up, roll up, and look around" and should only carry the cash and credit cards that are needed. "We encourage them not to travel with large sums of money," Plunkett agreed.
Car break-in reports also rise during this time so precautions should be taken to reduce the chances of becoming a victim. Many of the break-ins are smashed windows and snatched items, which can be very difficult crimes to solve without witnesses.
"Don't leave items in plain sight," Plunkett advised. Between stores, shoppers should "try to cover up the items they've purchased or put them in the trunk. They should, as much as they can, try to conceal their items."
Shoppers are also "encouraged to go to shopping centers and events in pairs or with other people," Plunkett said. "Bad guys don't like groups."
The National Crime Prevention Council notes that pick-pockets are out this time of year looking for holiday cash, so carry purses closed and held snugly against the body, and carry wallets in front pockets of pants and coats.
Those leaving town should "make their homes look like they're not unoccupied," Plunkett said. "Have a neighbor pick up the newspapers, the mail. ... Anything you can do to make sure you home doesn't look like its unattended."
Both at home and on the road, people should, again, follow common-sense rules: "Lock doors and windows," Plunkett said.
Other tips include using timers for lights and keeping shades and drapes in normal positions; teaching guests how to operate locks and recruiting them to helping keep doors and windows secure; and gathering items in the yard that need to be stored.