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Tips for safe Memorial Day trip

Guest Column


Last updated 5/25/2016 at 10:31am

The good news this Memorial Day weekend is more than 38 million Americans are expected to travel, making the unofficial kickoff to summer this year the second busiest on record.

AAA reports nearly 34 million people across the nation will be driving, which is up by 2.1 percent over last year. Air travel is expected to increase as well, with 2.6 million Americans taking to the skies.

AAA finds stable or lower costs for airfares, rental cars and hotels. Compared with 2015, gas prices average up to 50 cents a gallon lower.

So what’s the bad news?

The National Safety Council (NSC) reports Memorial Day Weekend is the second most dangerous holiday for driving. Over the years the estimated holiday traffic fatalities hover around 400, and another 46,000 medically consulted injuries occur from motor vehicle collisions. Nothing ruins a fun-planned outing more than an auto accident.

Here are some traveling tips to make sure you and your family arrive home safely.

First, buckle up.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that only 13 percent of vehicle occupants don’t wear seat belts. Drivers and passengers in cars and light trucks who do not buckle up accounted for 44.7 percent of fatalities in 2014.

Second, avoid road rage.

Expedia just released its annual study of least-desirable behaviors while driving. It shows Americans consider texting and tailgating to be the two worst driving behaviors. Other common annoyances are weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, cutting off other drivers and running red lights.

According to Expedia, “48 percent of survey respondents still receive a ‘rude/hostile hand gesture,’ 35 percent have been yelled or cursed at, and 13 percent have been accosted by a driver who exited his or her vehicle to do so.”

Third, don’t drive impaired.

In the past, that meant: “Don’t Drink (alcoholic beverages) and Drive!” Today, it includes don’t get behind the steering wheel when high on marijuana or illegal drugs.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released the results of traffic accident studies conducted in Washington after our state legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012. The Foundation examined drug tests and fatal crashes among drivers.

Among the findings: the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana more than doubled from 8 to 17 percent between 2013 and 2014.

Fourth, avoid distractions while driving. That means stop texting and cell

phone conversations. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of all vehicle accidents can be attributed to distracted driving.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says motor vehicle accidents are the number-one cause of workplace fatalities. And distracted driving is a significant highway safety threat and is responsible for well over 3,000 fatalities each year, according to AAA.

Its research concluded that even when drivers kept their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, cognitive distractions caused significant impairment, such as: suppressed brain activity, slow reaction times, missed cues such as stop signs or a pedestrian, and decreased visual scanning.

NSC believes new technology in vehicles causes drivers to become more distracted behind the wheel. “Drivers – 53% of them – believe if manufacturers put “infotainment” dashboards and hands-free technology in vehicles, they must be safe. But in fact, these technologies distract our brains even long after you’ve used them.

The biggest take-away from the compilation of research on distracted driving is that using all of these systems caused unsafe driving conditions.

Finally, remember driving is serious business and requires our full attention. Others depend upon you slowing down, keeping your cool, driving without impairments, and putting down your cell phones. It is the best way to have a safe and memorable trip.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at


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