SIKESTON -- Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, but it also marks one of the busiest holidays of the year, which is why state officials are urging motorists to drive safely and responsibly over the weekend.
"Our main concern is that Labor Day is the last holiday of the summer and a high number of people will be traveling on the roadways," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett Jr., public information officer for Troop E of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "We just want to remind motorists to take extra time and obey the speed limits."
Last year, 10 people in Missouri were killed and 590 persons were injured in 1,317 traffic crashes occurring during the Labor Day holiday counting period. That is one person killed or injured every 7.8 minutes. Over the past five years (1998-2002), 64 persons were killed and 3,235 were injured in Labor Day holiday crashes.
So far this year there have been 90 fatalities in Troop E compared to 52 fatalities at the same time of the year.
"It's far above last year's total. People need to leave extra time when planning their trips in case they do run into some traffic or other hold up," Plunkett said.
AAA is predicting a nine-year high for travel this coming Labor Day, based on research conducted by TIA-Travel Statistics and Trends. It is estimated that 33.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the course of the holiday weekend, up 1.8 percent from last year.
Four in five travelers, or 84 percent, are expected to travel by car, an increase of 2.2 percent to 28.2 million, while the number planning to travel by air (11 percent) is expected to decline by 2.6 percent to 3.7 million this year.
"The No. 1 cause(s) of traffic accidents is following too closely, speed and inattention," Plunkett said. "A majority of those involved in fatal accidents aren't wearing their seatbelts."
In Missouri, in 2002, a driver involved in a traffic crash had a 1 in 46 chance of being killed if not wearing a seat belt, but when the driver wore the seatbelt, the chance of being killed decreased to 1 in 1,342, according to the MSHP.
When officers fill out accident reports, there are over 20 categories as options for causes of the accident, Plunkett explained. Over 70 percent of the categories marked off are speed and inattention, he said.
Another area of concern for motorists this weekend is traveling through construction zones.
"Even if we don't have all of our work zones active, there are still more people who will be traveling and motorists need to take extra safety precautions," noted Melissa Black, outreach coordinator for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Some of the safety precautions include wearing seatbelts, paying attention, obeying signs and not drinking and driving, Black said.
"We want people to remember to watch out for themselves and others," Black said. "All we want is to get everybody where they're going safely and to pay attention."
The Labor Day counting period will begin at 6 p.m. today and end at 11:59 p.m. Monday. The Patrol, along with local law enforcement, will participate in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort).
"The Patrol wants everyone to enjoy this holiday weekend," said Colonel Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Patrol. "Let's keep it safe. I urge drivers to buckle up, obey Missouri's traffic laws, and drive sober. The worst part of a trooper's job is having to knock on someone's front door to inform them a member of their family has died in a traffic crash. Help 'Stop the Knock.'"
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 cellular phone, dial *55. To receive the latest road conditions for major Missouri highways, motorists may call the Patrol's Road Condition Hotline at 1-800-222-6400 or (573) 526-8828.
-- Plan your trip -- Contact MoDOT for lane-closure information.
-- Stay alert and make safety your first priority.
-- Expect the unexpected -- Pay close attention to those around you.
-- Watch your speed.
-- Obey all the traffic rules and signs.
-- Drive courteously.
-- Minimize distractions -- Turn the radio down and don't use your mobile phone.
-- Use seatbelts and child safety seats.
-- Get plenty of rest before your trip, and change drivers if you feel tired.
-- Don't drive if you have been drinking.
Information about major construction projects can be found by calling MoDOT's toll-free road conditions hotline at 1-888-222-6400.
Source: Missouri Department of Transportation