SIKESTON -- The Missouri State Highway Patrol is trading office time and paper work for more time on the highways during the Fourth of July holiday this year.
The Highway Patrol will participate in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) over the holiday. Extra officers will patrol Missouri's roadways and enforce Missouri's speed limit, seat belt and alcohol laws, in addition to being available to help motorists.
"It (Operation C.A.R.E.) means everybody in blue who is not on extended vacation will be working over the holiday," Sgt. Brent Davis of the public information and education for Missouri State Highway Patrol said. "We're pretty much going to saturate Interstates 55 and 57 and U.S. Highway 60 -- wherever speeding is going on."
Last year, there were no fatalities in the Troop E region of Southeast Missouri; however there were four deaths and 265 injured in Missouri over the holiday in 564 traffic crashes, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Missouri Highway Patrol troopers arrested 53 people for driving while intoxicated over the July Fourth holiday in 2001. Over the past five years, 58 people have been killed and 3,533 have been injured in traffic crashes on Missouri's roadways over July Fourth holidays.
The 2002 counting period for the July Fourth holiday begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday and end at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
Since the Fourth falls in the middle of the week, Davis doesn't expect too much travel by Missourians this year, but that doesn't mean motorists shouldn't be careful.
"Buckle up. It's the biggest killer of traffic accidents," Davis advised. "I preach and preach and demand that everyone uses common sense. If there is one thing that can be done, it's wearing that seat belt."
Davis also said for motorists to expect officer calls to be a little closer than normal. There's going to be zero tolerance in seat belt wearing. Davis warned motorists: "If you're stopped and you're not wearing a seat belt, you're going to get a ticket."
The biggest cause of traffic accidents is inattention, Davis said. Everyone sees people run off the road -- whether in front of them or behind them, but when they cross the line and hit someone, a ticket is warranted, he said.
When any celebration arises, alcohol is almost always sure to follow. Davis said 50 percent of all nationwide fatalities are alcohol-related.
"Everybody knows it's a bad idea to get drunk and drive," Davis said. "However, not everybody thinks it's bad to drink and drive."
Davis said as little as two or three drinks can impair judgment and slow reflexes. People do things they wouldn't normally do when they drink, Davis said. The best thing to do is to plan ahead, he recommended.
"Make sure you know who your designated driver is. Everyone knows how difficult it is to take the keys away from someone who's been drinking so why not plan ahead and prevent an argument," Davis suggested.
Motorists who need assistance or witness criminal activity while traveling on Missouri's roadways can contact the nearest Highway Patrol troop headquarters by calling the Patrol Emergency Assistance hotline at 1-800-525-5555 or *55 on a cellular phone.
"July Fourth is a special holiday, especially in light of what happened Sept. 11," Colonel Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Highway Patrol said in a recent statement.
He continued: "We live in a great country and this holiday celebrates our freedom. Please, if your celebration includes travel, be careful. If your celebration includes alcohol, don't drive."