Staying safe on local roads for Memorial Day

By on May 22, 2019

Prior to major holidays in the United States, the American Automobile Association, (AAA), provides drivers with estimates of vehicles on the road, potential bottlenecks, and provides safety tips.
The AAA doesn’t dwell on it, but it always is behind the narrative that holiday travel also sees thousands of accidents and many deaths as the result of unsafe driving. It is stark and eye opening to think about.

While holiday traffic and accidents may be more connected to speed and prevalent on major highways, tourist areas of the country like Lancaster County provide their own challenges for drivers. Remember, we live in one of the top tourist destinations on the East Coast.

Statistics

If you think you are seeing more vehicles on the road these days, you are correct. The latest research shows U.S. drivers spending nearly 51 minutes behind the wheel each day, and averaging nearly 12,000 miles a year. Higher vehicle ownership and gas prices that, until recently, were low, have contributed to the increase. And, an aging interstate and highway infrastructure also has drivers seeing more traffic delays.

Driving statistics show that men drive more than 25 percent more than women, and those who are married are driving more than 10 percent more than those who are not.

What may surprise you is the statistic that senior drivers (age 75 or over) are spending more than 30 minutes each day on the road — a 25 percent increase over the past few years.
Living in Lancaster County, which recently was named by U.S. News and World Report as the top retirement location in the country, brings new seniors to the area each year, and more drivers. And many retirees bring not one car with them, but two, as evidenced by the two car garages that are prevalent in new retirement and active-55 community homes.

One busy weekend

Memorial Day — the holidays that celebrates Americans who died while serving in the armed forces — is summer’s unofficial start, with Americans usually traveling in record numbers. The AAA estimates 43 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, the majority by automobile. Some 1.5 million additional Americans (up 3.6 percent) will travel Memorial Day weekend by bus, rail, or runway.

The busiest driving days are usually the Thursday and Friday before the weekend, as travelers try and get a head start and beat the “holiday traffic.”
Donie Lee Spiegel, Central Pennsylvania AAA’s public relations manager, says they call Pennsylvania the Keystone State for a reason.

“With New York City as the second most popular Memorial Day destination, there will be a lot of extra traffic, not only on the PA Turnpike, but also the man East-West and North-South interstates including 81 and 83,” Spiegel says.

She advises that Lancaster County residents needing to travel that weekend should be aware that many travelers take to the road as early as the Thursday afternoon before the holiday.
“Locals should think about alternate routes to their destinations that takes them away from what will be heavily traveled main roads,” she advises.

Be prepared and cautious

In preparation for any automotive trip, especially when on the road during extremes in weather (hot or cold), be sure you vehicle is as ready for the trip as you are. You wouldn’t leave for a weekend or a week without clothing and toiletries to be sure; so, at least check that key components of your vehicle are ready for the trip.

Be sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure (from owner’s manual or panel inside driver’s door) and they have a safe amount of tread. Be sure your brake system does not have fluid leaks, and does not show any potential problems that may be indicated by instrument panel warning signs. And finally, oil and engine coolant levels should be topped off and your battery checked to be sure it can handle the trip, and isn’t giving you warning signs that it is time to change.

And it should go without saying, if adult beverages are part of your weekend plans, commit to not drinking and driving or have a designated driver ready as a back-up.
The worst and best times to travel vary by area as people heading to ocean, bay, and lake beaches know as they, and what seems like everyone else, can’t wait to get their toes in the sand.

Local issues

In Lancaster County, Memorial Day weekend sees a significant increase in tourist traffic to towns like Paradise and Intercourse with commercial buggy rides slowing traffic. The major East-West roads, including PA Routes 30, 340 and 23, see slower traffic as tourists stop at farmers markets, roadside attractions, and yard sales.

Be aware that even Plain Community drivers may not be paying close attention to what’s around them on Lancaster County country roads.

If the local East-West roads are crowded, the North-South farm roads east of Lancaster city also will have increased traffic, as tourists slow to look at Plain Community farms, horse drawn carriages, farm equipment, or Old Order kids on scooters and bicycles. If you are a native, take a deep breath and be patient.

To add to the traffic, Memorial Day weekend is opening day for most community swimming pools and youngsters, whether on foot or bicycle, might not be paying as much attention to what’s around them as they should or could be. Locally, watch out for parades, road races and yard sales (from single family to community) all causing people to slow down for safety or to gawk.

And, unfortunately with all the preparation, packing and planning as well as driving tips and suggestions, several hundred drivers and passengers will be involved in accidents during the weekend.

The numbers seem to increase every year as holiday weekend festivities, as well as the use of electronic devices, distract drivers heading to or from weekend destinations.

Be sure to be vigilant returning home at the end of the weekend, especially at the very end of your trip and thoughts of home and what needs to be done to be ready for Tuesday might affect your concentration.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net. 

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