"We've had a few accidents but nothing out of the normal for this time of year," said Captain John Martin. So far during the holiday shopping season, DPS has recorded between 20 and 25 accidents a month, which is about the rate for other times of the year. "It's been a good holiday traffic season so far and we'd like to keep it that way."
With an extended holiday weekend, DPS and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are expecting traffic to increase through Friday and stay steady through Tuesday. Both will have officers patrolling the roads this weekend and offered tips for motorists.
"This weekend, we will have a group of officers out working special details around the stores," Martin said. The officers will be on patrol from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and checking on security, vehicles and the like.
The MSHP will be out, too. "We're pretty heavy during the holiday season, but definitely on main traffic days," said Lt. Jim McNiell of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E, adding that he perceives Friday and Tuesday to be the busiest days.
Thus far, the biggest problems DPS has encountered are parking-related. "We've had some problems where people are shopping and leaving things visible in their car," Martin said. He urged shoppers to lock all items in the trunk, out of sight.
The throng of out-of-town visitors also causes complications. "There's a heavier traffic flow," Martin said. "A lot of people are confused and lost and have to slow down."
Trouble areas are the main thoroughfares on Interstates 60, 55 and 57, McNiell said. In Sikeston, "Main and Malone are notorious for heavy traffic," he said. "With increased traffic and shopping, all intersections are going to be full and people just have to be careful and take their time."
Martin and McNiell agreed the weather has helped keep accidents down, with no ice, snow or other accumulation to make the roads slippery. The flip side is that the weather encourages more people to get out and creates problems associated with the increased traffic, including exceeding speed limits, aggressive-type driving, drinking and driving and refusal to wear seat belts.
During last year's holiday counting period, there were 1,071 accidents in the state, in which nine people were killed and 411 injured.
To help achieve that, he and Martin offered some basic tips for motorists. "Don't push yourself, take your time, be patient, be courteous, obey all traffic laws and definitely wear your seat belt," McNiell said. He also stressed the importance of not drinking and driving, keeping focused on the road and not letting fatigue set in.
Martin's tip: "slow down and be observant."
Motorists can also contact the MSHP while on the road if they have an emergency or see someone in need of help by calling 1-800-525-5555 or *55.