SIKESTON -- As summer comes to a close this weekend, motorists are encouraged by highway officials to drive safely to avoid hefty fines and prevent injuries and deaths.
Nearly 29 million people nationwide are expected to travel by car this holiday weekend, according to AAA projections. AAA says 4.1 million people are expected to travel by air this weekend -- an increase of 2.5 percent from last year.
"Gasoline prices will be about the same as they were a year ago," said Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for AAA in St. Louis. "Right now in Missouri the price is $2.73 a gallon -- up from $2.66 a year ago this time. It's still lower than Missouri's record-high of $3.21 on May 24."
Nationwide, gas prices are down this year to $2.77 a gallon compared to the average of $2.82 a gallon during the same period last year. These prices are still lower than the nationwide record high of $3.23 per gallon, which occurred on May 24, Right said.
"We're just hoping for great weather this weekend and for everyone to have a safe trip to and from their journeys over the holiday weekends," Right said.
The Labor Day counting period will begin at 6 p.m. today and end at 11:59 p.m. Monday. The Missouri State Highway Patrol, along with local law enforcement, will participate in Operation CARE (Combined Accident Reduction Effort), which will coincide with "You Drink, You Drive, You Lose" campaign.
Motorists should obey Missouri's traffic laws and watch for changes in traffic patterns due to the number of travelers or road construction, and everyone in the vehicle should buckle up, according to the Patrol.
"It's the last major holiday of the summer and there will be a tremendous amount of traffic out this weekend. Please don't drink and drive. It's hot and people have a tendency to drink so get a designated driver or something. Just don't get behind the wheel and drive," said Sgt. Dale Moreland, public information and education officer for the Patrol's Troop E.
Troop E conducted sobriety checkpoints and saturations throughout August, and every available officer will be out in full force during the holiday weekend, Moreland said.
"There's a lot of expense involved with drinking and driving," Moreland said. "The average cost of a DWI conviction is $3,000."
These expenses include paying for towing, a bondsmen, an attorney, fine and court costs, substance abuse and traffic offender courses and license reinstatement fee. Also a person's insurance will increase, Moreland said.
"People need to be aware our fatalities are down so if they just take time to pay attention to the driving -- obey traffic laws and buckle up, it would be a big help," Moreland said.
The 2007 fatality totals are at a 13 percent decrease statewide compared to the same time in 2006. Troop E's numbers are also down slightly. To date, the troop has 44 fatalities compared to 49 at this time last year.
Last year 18 people were killed and 502 were injured in 1,108 traffic crashes occurring during the Labor Day holiday counting period.
Of those 18 fatalities, 12 were killed in automobiles, trucks, vans and motor homes (vehicles normally having safety devices). Of these, nine were not using their safety belts. Inattention, speeding, failing to yield and drinking were the most common causes of crashes during last year's holiday weekend. Missouri Department of Transportation officials said a stiffer work zone law means big penalties for reckless drivers. Injuring or killing a highway worker could cost $10,000 as well as a lost license for a year.
"We're doing everything we can to make roads as safe as they can be so motorists and our workers get home safely every day," said Don Hillis, director of system management for MoDOT.
Although MoDOT generally limits the amount of work done on holidays, drivers will still encounter heavy traffic and some construction over the holiday.
"Even the most careful drivers can't avoid all crashes, but it is a proven fact that safety belts save lives -- so we encourage Missourians to buckle up," Hillis said.
MoDOT suggested planning a trip by determining the route before leaving; get plenty of rest before the trip and change drivers if tiredness occurs. Also motorists should be patient and courteous to other drivers.
Travelers needing assistance or reporting a drunk or careless driver, illegal activity on the highways or a stalled motorist can call the Patrol's emergency hotline at 1-800-525-5555 or on a cell phone dial *55.