ANNAPOLIS – Every fourth Wednesday in November, Maryland’s roads are packed tighter than stuffing into a Thanksgiving turkey, creating some of the most dangerous driving conditions people see all year.
Recent rankings put the Washington metropolitan area among the worst in the country for daily traffic gridlock. Thanksgiving travel just makes moving near impossible. Maryland State Police have a plan to alleviate these hazards for during the last Thanksgiving of the millenium.
State Police will dispatch 100 troopers this weekend to aid travelers and enforce seatbelt use, said spokesman Pete Piringer. Troopers who normally work non-street duties and whose offices are closed will turn in their turkey for the turnpike, backing up troopers in 23 barracks statewide.
Even though Maryland has a high rate of seat belt usage, troopers still will be targeting drivers without them, Piringer said, part of a Thanksgiving zero-tolerance policy.
Informing travelers about seat belt safety along Interstate 95 this week will be a handful of Maryland troopers, accompanied by Delaware and New Jersey State Police. These troopers have joined the nationwide movement Operation ABC, America Buckles up Children, to focus on child seat belt use, Mitchell said.
Another key issue for child safety involves the correct installation of car seats. Many parents are unaware they incorrectly install them, said Chuck Scott, a trained car seat technician.
“If it’s not done correctly, you could be setting the kid up to fly out the window,” Scott said.
Scott, a car salesman, is one of two in-house car seat specialists at Rockville’s Fitzgerald Auto Mall where a car seat check was held Tuesday afternoon. Dealership owner Jack Fitzgerald has been coordinating monthly community car seat checks since February.
“Frankly, I didn’t think it would amount to anything because I didn’t think people had any trouble putting in their car seats,” Fitzgerald said. During their very first checkup, 188 were examined, and the results shocked Fitzgerald.
“They were all wrong. I couldn’t believe it,” Fitzgerald said.
Scott said typically the straps are too loose, belts are incorrectly routed through the seat and sometimes seats actually face the wrong way.
Incorrectly installed seats contribute to injury or death in an accident, Scott said.
This past weekend, eight drivers were killed in car crashes in the Baltimore area. Piringer said troopers needn’t dwell on those accidents, but instead should look to prevent further ones.
“Obviously, we’re concerned. I don’t know if there’s any common denominator in those fatalities,” said Piringer, who noted that 16 people died in auto accidents during the Thanksgiving weekend last year. “Our goal this year is to have zero fatalities.”
One common denominator in auto wrecks is fatigue, Piringer said, so he advised travelers to be sure to get plenty of sleep before hitting the road. Inclement weather also can create hazardous driving conditions, but as long as drivers control their speed, Piringer said, they should be fine.
Fog may plague morning travelers Wednesday, with scattered showers cropping up, “but considering the time of year, things could be a lot worse,” said Buzz Bernard, senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel.
Police recommend that drivers obey the following for a safe trip:
– Pay attention to the road and cars around you.
– Avoid food or drink in the drivers’ seat.
– Be courteous: don’t let aggressive drivers egg you on.
– Always fasten your seat belt.
– Never drink and drive.