As part of an enforcement to keep the roads safe this Thanksgiving weekend, authorities in Merced and Stanislaus counties as well as statewide will be looking for speeders, drunken drivers and those who don't buckle up.
The California Highway Patrol's new slogan is "buckle up every trip, every time."
Gas prices have dropped rapidly after a spike last month, so the CHP expects as many travelers on the road as a normal Thanksgiving weekend. The impact was already being seen at the beginning of the week. "You can always tell what the traffic is going to be like by all the people leaving early to try to avoid catching the holiday traffic," CHP Officer Matt Pinheiro said. "It was busy this week."
There are plenty of officers on the road to monitoring the motorists. The CHP's maximum enforcement period started Wednesday at 6 p.m. and continues through late Sunday.
Crashes increased significantly last year over the Thanksgiving weekend and resulted in 32 deaths statewide, a 52 percent increase from the year before, according to the CHP. Many of those killed were not wearing seat belts.
"Motorists are less likely to encounter one of our officers by simply wearing their seat belt," said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow in a news release. "By not wearing your seat belt, the risk of death or injury in a collision substantially increases."
Drivers also better be sober when they get behind the wheel this weekend. The CHP arrested 1,475 people on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs last year over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Modesto police will deploy roving saturation patrols on Friday and Saturday nights. The patrols are conducted by officers assigned solely to look for drunken drivers. Merced County follows a similar procedure.
"This is a zero-tolerance crackdown, so drive sober or get pulled over," said Sgt. Craig Breckenridge of the Modesto police traffic unit. The patrols are funded by a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety.
Authorities also warned drivers not to send or read text messages while driving. Distracted driving is a major threat to everyone.
The Traffic Safety Coalition, a national not-for- profit organization, encourages drivers to pledge to drive safely.
"We want to remind all drivers about the importance of obeying our most basic traffic safety law: Red means stop," the coalition's co-chairman, Paul Oberhauser, said in a news release.
Oberhauser's daughter, Sarah, died in 2002 after a driver failed to stop at a red light and crashed into her car.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.