- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Police in the D.C. area plan to step up enforcement of traffic laws this weekend during the deadliest holiday of the year — July Fourth.

An average of 161 persons nationwide die in traffic accidents on Independence Day, 37 percent more than a typical day, according to a new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, a research organization for the insurance industry.

A record 34.4 million Americans are expected to drive at least 50 miles from home during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to AAA. About 634,000 will be from the D.C. area.

By Tuesday morning, the conclusion of the holiday, about 550 people nationwide will be dead from traffic fatalities if the past is repeated, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“When July Fourth falls on a weekend, the deaths are even higher,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the insurance institute.

July 3 ranks as the second-most-deadly day, and July 2 is ninth.

Insurance and law-enforcement officials attribute the greater-than-average number of traffic fatalities during the Fourth of July holiday to more passengers traveling in a single vehicle, drunken driving and driver fatigue.

“It is one of the most dangerous holidays on the highways,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the AAA-MidAtlantic auto club. “It’s a terrible time to take the party on the road.”

On an average day throughout the year, 117 persons die on America’s roadways, according to the insurance institute. The deadliest day is Saturday, when an average of 158 die.

State police in Virginia, Maryland and nationwide will participate this weekend in “Operation CARE,” for Combined Accident Reduction Effort, to reduce highway crashes.

The plan includes maintaining high police visibility on highways, sobriety checkpoints and more intense traffic enforcement.

Virginia State Police will be enforcing drunken-driving laws that took effect yesterday with penalties that make them among the toughest in the nation.

Twenty-five new laws took effect in Virginia that increase penalties for drunken driving, including mandatory prison sentences for repeat offenders and seizure of a person’s car after a third DUI conviction in 10 years.

Virginia State Police plan to set up 100 sobriety checkpoints, beginning today.

“It is our objective to stop the senseless deaths and injuries on our highways created by those who operate a motor vehicle in Virginia while under the influence of alcohol,” said Col. W. Steve Flaherty, Virginia State Police superintendent.

During the 2003 Fourth of July weekend, Virginia State Police issued 11,863 traffic summonses, 127 of them for driving under the influence of alcohol. July Fourth fell on a Friday last year.

Nevertheless, seven persons were killed in traffic accidents in the state during the three-day weekend.

In the District, the Department of Transportation is trying to minimize traffic hazards by ordering all street construction work to stop at noon today, said Bill Rice, the department’s spokesman.

The Metropolitan Police Department recommends that anyone going to downtown festivities avoid traffic by riding Metro.

“Parking is at a premium,” said Officer Quintin Peterson, Metropolitan Police Department spokesman.

In Maryland, traffic-hazard hot spots are likely to be the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Ocean City.

The Maryland Transportation Authority projects about 400,000 trips across the Bay Bridge during the next three days.

New Year’s Day, Labor Day and Christmas follow the Fourth of July as deadly holidays for traffic deaths.

July 3 ranks second in number of deaths, with an average of 149 traffic fatalities, and Dec. 23 is third, with an average of 145.

Four days in August made the top 10 deadliest days list. The insurance institute said more families are vacationing or traveling on the roads in August, which contributes to the high death count.

The Fourth of July has the highest death rate for passenger vehicle occupants and motorcyclists, while Halloween has the highest rate for pedestrian deaths, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

About 41 percent of the traffic deaths this weekend will be alcohol-related if figures match previous years, according to the insurance institute. Only New Year’s Day is higher with 51 percent of the deaths alcohol-related.

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