SIKESTON -- With local gas prices hovering around $2.40 per gallon, more motorists are expected to travel Missouri highways this Labor Day holiday weekend than last year.
About 6.5 million Midwesterners of the total 35.2 million are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend, AAA reports. Towns/rural areas top AAA's list of preferred destinations this holiday with 28 percent. Last year 34.8 million Americans traveled during the holiday weekend.
"Labor Day is, traditionally, one of the biggest weekends because it's usually the last warm weather for the holiday period," said Lt. Jim McNiell, commanding officer of Troop E satellite in Sikeston. "People like to take a few days off and go to the lake -- you see more boats on road and campers."
The Patrol will heavily enforce the "Slow Down, Move Over" law this weekend, McNiell said.
"We're still having still having a few problems with that," McNiell said, adding a lot of construction zone enforcement has been carried out along Interstate 55.
The Patrol will be out in full force this weekend, McNiell said. Motorists should pay heed to signs in construction zones, slow down and obey the speed limit, he said. When slowing down, if the other lane is available, please merge over into other lane, he said.
Through Troop E's efforts in Southeast Missouri, a problem was identified in construction zones, where people aren't obeying the law, McNiell said.
For example, the Patrol has spent 173 hours of overtime enforcement in construction zones from spring until Labor Day weekend. So far there have been 245 arrests and 317 warnings in these construction zones. Of those 109 speeding violations, seven were careless and imprudent driving, four were driving while intoxicated; and 30 were seat belt and child restraint arrests.
"There's a $250 fine increase just for speeding in that construction with workers present," McNiell said. "I think we all have something better do with $250 with gas and everything else so expensive. And if you figure in court costs, that's a 350-$400 ticket."
McNiell said construction zones are marked as such while workers are present. He doesn't anticipate any construction work going on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, but he does Friday, McNiell said.
"We're still working accidents where people are not wearing seat belts," McNiell said. "Seatbelts work and they save lives."
McNiell said he sees a lot of accidents involving fatigued drivers.
"I've seen a lot of late night accidents on Friday nights where people have been traveling too long, and they're just tired," McNiell said.
Motorists should be well-rested and take periodic breaks to stretch their legs and get some fresh air, McNiell said. Inattention also causes quite a few accidents, McNiell said, adding much of driving safely involves common sense and courtesy.
"Our hope for everybody is to have a good holiday weekend and just drive safely," McNiell said.
Capt. John Martin of Sikeston Department of Public Safety said typically Labor Day weekend doesn't cause major problems in Sikeston -- just an increase in traffic flow.
"Right now it's just business as usual," Martin said. "We're not planning on any special details or events. The major event in town this weekend will be the Return to Sunset. Extra personnel will be on duty to assist if any traffic directing is needed."
The Labor Day counting period will begin at 6 p.m. Friday 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), which will coincide with the "You Drink, You Drive, You Lose" campaign.
Last year, 11 people were killed and 483 were injured in 1,029 traffic crashes occurring during the Labor Day holiday counting period. That is one person killed or injured every 9.5 minutes. Over the past five years, 64 people were killed and 2,913 were injured in Labor Day holiday crashes.
Fatality totals in 2006 are at a 16 percent decrease when compared the to the same time period in 2005, according to Col. Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Patrol. Stottlemyre attributed the decrease to increased education and enforcement efforts by officers.
The peak travel days for the weekend will be Friday and Monday, McNiell said. "The simple solution is to pay attention to the signs and obey the law," McNiell said.