Less travelers, more deaths predicted for Memorial Day

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Georgia State Patrol predicts that 19 people will die in 2,300 wrecks on Georgia's roads during the 78-hour Memorial Day holiday weekend, said Senior Trooper Larry Schnall, GSP spokesman. Meanwhile, AAA expects .09 percent less people will travel this weekend as compared to 2007.

High gas prices might result in heavier traffic across the state as people take shorter trips close to home, said Col. Bill Hitchens, Department of Public Safety commissioner.

Chris Vasquez of Buford will keep her family inside the state this year.

"My parents own a place in Greenville (Ga.) and we will go there," she said. "We don't usually go out of town. My husband drives 50 miles one way to work. We've cut back a lot, especially on eating out."

Katie Chavous, on the other hand, will take her family home to Florida for a visit.

"We usually go for the holidays," she said. "But we drive a Chevy Avalanche and $100 doesn't fill the tank."

Every available Georgia state trooper will be out on the roads at some time during the holiday travel period that begins at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at midnight on Monday, and they have a book full of blank citations ready.

"This is the kickoff to the summer travel, including vacations, holidays, people graduating, graduation gifts like new cars. The public is typically very excited about Memorial Day," Schnall said. "Even with record high gas prices, the troopers are prepared. We are participating in C.A.R.E., Combined Accident Reduction Efforts, a national program where state troopers work together to make sure motorists wear seat belts, educate them and issue citations."

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety Click It or Ticket program is also in effect, he said.

"Troopers will team up with local law enforcement officers throughout the weekend which may include DUI and license checkpoints at unannounced times and locations," Schnall said.

During the same time period last year, 10 people died in 2,062 car wrecks in Georgia, matching 1979 for the lowest number of deaths for the Memorial Day holiday weekend since traffic stats were first recorded for the holiday in 1969.

Many accidents occur on secondary roads, Schnall said.

"Speeding, DUI-related and not wearing a seat belt are the most common denominators we see in fatalities," he said. "The best defense against a DUI driver is wearing your seat belt."

Schnall encourages drivers to take the time to get their vehicles checked before hitting the road.

"Check your fluids, belts, make sure the tires are properly inflated," he said. "Even something as simple as making sure your windshield wipers are working well can help."