State and local agencies are expecting a lot of traffic this Memorial Day weekend as warm weather and a long holiday weekend create the perfect storm for travelers headed to and from southern vacation destinations.
With COVID-19 restrictions decreasing, AAA officials predict 60% more travelers this Memorial Day weekend compared the same time last year.
“We obviously expect more people coming in and that creates a concern especially with all of the construction going on the west side of Dothan,” Dothan Police Sgt. William Phares said. “Just be patient, and make sure you plan ahead and plan for traffic to be heavy so you get to where you’re going safely.”
Phares also urged motorists to be mindful of speed and avoiding distraction while driving, and not to text or drink while driving.
As an added precaution for the safety of the traveling public and roadside workers, there will be no temporary lane closures on Alabama interstates after noon on Friday through 11:59 p.m. Monday, according to a statement from the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“With increased traffic on the road, it’s especially important to allow extra time for travel and extra room between vehicles,” said Allison Green, Drive Safe Alabama coordinator for ALDOT. “If traffic slows suddenly, you have time to brake without crashing. Aggressively changing lanes will not get you to your destination any faster, and it’s a dangerous move that can lead to a crash and ruin holiday fun for you and those around you.”
ALDOT offered these holiday driving safety tips:
Buckle up. Surviving a crash is much more likely when wearing a seat belt. Latest stats from Drive Safe Alabama show that more than 50% of people dying in crashes on Alabama highways are not wearing a seat belt.
Slow down. Speeding is a leading contributing factor in fatal crashes on Alabama roads.
Keep right, except to pass. Drivers on Alabama interstates must travel in the right lane. Drivers are not allowed to be in the left lane for more than 1.5 miles unless the driver is passing another vehicle. There are exceptions for road hazards, traffic congestion and moving over for emergency response vehicles.
More safe driving tips are available on the Drive Safe Alabama Facebook page.
Motorists planning their holiday travel route can find Alabama traffic and road condition information, including live traffic camera feeds at www.ALGOtraffic.com or by downloading the ALGO Traffic app. ALDOT asks motorists to use ALGO Traffic responsibly. Drivers should never text, tweet, or use a mobile device while operating a vehicle.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is also expecting thousands of boaters to hit the waterways this weekend on Alabama’s beaches, rivers, and lakes.
In an effort to enhance and promote public safety ahead of the busy holiday weekend, ALEA’s Marine Patrol Division is participating in National Safe Boating Week through Friday, leading up to Memorial Day weekend from Saturday to Monday.
Troopers within ALEA’s Marine Patrol Division would like to emphasize just how hazardous water activities can be and how to make boating, swimming and skiing safer for everyone.
From Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020, Marine Patrol investigated 107 boating-related crashes, resulting in 14 fatalities. The year prior, Marine Patrol investigated 110 boating-related crashes, with 29 fatalities.
“Many of those fatalities could have been prevented by the simple act of wearing a proper personal flotation device (PFD),” ALEA’s Secretary Hal Taylor said. “With your assistance, we can make this extended holiday weekend on the water safer for everyone, but it will require the use of PFDs and courtesy among boaters, along with an understanding of safe boat operation and the dangers of consuming alcohol.”
Following are some important safety tips from ALEA’s Marine Patrol Troopers to help stay safe on the water:
Holidays are not the time for novice boaters to learn to operate their crafts. Operator inexperience is one of the leading contributing factors to boating crashes in Alabama. New operators should consider attending an in-person boating-safety class prior to going to the water.
Be mindful of other boaters. Avoid passing too closely to boats in motion, boats at idle, and individuals in the water.
Boaters should avoid the use of alcoholic beverages or use the designated operator system. The sun, wind, and other weather conditions already produce an effect on boaters known as “boater fatigue,” and the consumption of alcohol only compounds and intensifies the effect.
When towing or pulling individuals on tubes or water skis, avoid spending prolonged periods in small areas. Look for calm, open water where boating traffic is light.
Everyone should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD (life vest) when under way, particularly at night. Operators are responsible for everyone on board and should ensure all passengers know where PFDs are stored, how to reach them quickly and how to use them properly.
Children younger than age 8 are required to wear PFDs at all times (unless inside a permanently affixed cabin enclosure). They also should wear PFDs that are the appropriate size.
All individuals being pulled by a vessel on water skis, tubes or other aqua-planing devices also are required to wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs.
Operators must follow the capacity-plate requirements and never overload vessels beyond recommended safe-carrying capacity. These restrictions will include the weight of equipment and all individuals on board.
Under Alabama law, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are considered to be vessels and are subject to PFD requirements.
Vessels passing head-on must keep to the right. In a narrow channel, vessels will keep to the right of mid-channel.
Vessels passing or approaching another vehicle must be operated in such a manner and at such a rate of speed that will not create a hazardous wash or wake.
Avoid boating at night unless familiar with the body of water. Then, operate at a reduced, safe speed. Make sure all navigation lights are in proper working order and displayed properly. Have a cell phone and flashlight on hand in case of emergency.
In addition to boating and road safety tips, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging personal responsibility in gathering for Memorial Day. Following the holiday in 2020, Alabama observed an increase in COVID-19 cases.
“Everyone needs to be responsible so we can prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in 2021,” an ADPH release stated. “Fully vaccinated people can now resume activities without wearing a mask or social distancing. At this time when COVID-19 case numbers are lower and vaccine availability is widespread, unvaccinated people who are hesitant should take this opportunity get vaccinated.”
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, weather.com is predicting partly cloudy skies for the weekend with some chance of rain for the Wiregrass, including a chance for scattered thunderstorms on Saturday. Highs are expected to be in the mid-upper 80’s.
Temperatures are expected to be a bit milder at Panama City Beach with slightly smaller chances of rain.
Sable Riley is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334.712.7915. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.