VIRGINIA — Road trips have been the primary mode of transportation for families across Virginia since the start of the coronavirus crisis and AAA is expecting that trend to continue during Labor Day weekend. With Labor Day traffic deaths on the rise for the past three years, the Virginia State Police is urging drivers to stay alert, stay sober and wear their seatbelts.
The Virginia State Police’s participation in the Crash Awareness Reduction Effort, or Operation CARE, begins Friday at 12:01 a.m. and ends at midnight Monday, Sept. 7. The nationwide traffic safety program aims to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries caused by impaired driving, speeding and failing to use occupant restraints.
“It’s really quite simple — seatbelts save lives, distractions are deadly on roadways and driving impaired is unacceptable,” Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent, said in a statement.
The state police also wants motorists to put their phones down and drive distraction-free.
Settle said he understands 2020 has been particularly stressful year for Virginians and many residents are looking to get away. "We want you and your family to reach your destination safely and throughout Virginia you can expect to see more state troopers conducting patrols to ensure that safety," the police superintendent said.
The 2019 Labor Day weekend saw a rise in fatal crashes across the state. Seventeen people died in crashes in Virginia during the 2019 four-day, holiday statistical counting period, compared to 14 deaths in 2018 and 5 deaths in 2017. According to preliminary data, as of Sept. 2, there have been 532 fatalities on Virginia highways in 2020 as compared to 531 during the same period in 2019.
“In a year where there have been fewer cars on the roads, this trend is disturbing,” Settle said.
Drivers and passengers are encouraged to safeguard themselves by always wearing a seatbelt. State police is also participating in the annual Checkpoint Strikeforce, an anti-DUI enforcement and education program sponsored by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.
The Virginia State Police is one of nearly 100 law enforcement agencies in Virginia conducting sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols through Labor Day in an effort to prevent and deter impaired driving and DUI-related crashes.
Once you reach your destination, officials are urging residents to continue to practice social distancing and wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"If the numbers continue to trend in a good direction and if there's evidence that people are following the safety guidelines over the holiday weekend, we will be able to move eastern Virginia in line with the rest of the state soon after Labor Day," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday.