- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An estimated 634,200 area residents taking vacations over this Fourth of July holiday will set a record for summer travel, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

July Fourth also represents another record. The large number of people on the road and drunken driving make it the deadliest holiday for traffic accidents, worse than St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve, according to AAA officials.

An average of 161 people die annually in July Fourth traffic accidents in the United States, compared with the daily average of 117, according to the agency.

“This [holiday] does not have to be the deadliest,” said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic director. “We have the ability to make this a safe holiday.”

Mr. Anderson urged holiday travelers to drive safely, and he stressed the importance of sober driving and keeping law-enforcement officials safe.

Almost 50 percent of July Fourth crashes involve alcohol, he said.

Craig Floyd, chairman and chief executive officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, also urged motorists to “keep a watchful eye out for the thousands of law-enforcement officers who will be out on patrol.”

More officers have died in the past nine years from traffic-related incidents than from any other cause, even gunshots, according to the fund’s statistics.

Virginia State Trooper John Houlberg, who was struck and seriously injured while on duty in 2001, at a press conference last week asked holiday drivers to “move over and slow down” when officers are pulling over vehicles.

A Howard County police officer was struck and killed June 16 while leaving his vehicle to stop a speeding car, and as a result several Maryland law enforcement agencies have largely suspended that type of assignment. Among the agencies are the Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police and the Anne Arundel County and Howard County police departments.

Mr. Anderson said travel will be more dispersed this year because the holiday falls mid-week.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a public-private group dedicated to curbing drunken driving and underage drinking in the region, will again offer its Independence Day SoberRide program, which provides free transportation home from 4 p.m. July Fourth to 4 a.m. July 5.

Kurt Erickson, the group’s president, called the Fourth of July “the most dangerous of all U.S. holidays when it comes to drunk driving.”

The rides program started in 1993 and runs on July Fourth, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and during the holiday season.

“It gives people an alternative,” said Carl Schuettler, general manager of Silver Cab of Prince George’s County, a participating company. “Basically it’s a cab or a cop car.”

Mr. Erickson said the program gave 179 rides last July Fourth.

“Over the course of 12 hours, we translate that to mean the removal of a drunken driver every four minutes,” he said.

The program is privately funded through sponsors who, combined, pay more than $60,000 a year in cab fares, Mr. Erikson said.

He also said a common misconception is that taxi companies are working for free, so riders might have to wait longer than if they had called their own taxis.

SoberRide covers fares up to $50. But Mr. Erickson said this is rare, as the average fare is about $25.

A 20-mile ride typically amounts to about $50.

The regional program promotes its services by posting and distributing “tens of thousands” of posters and cards listing the phone number and hours of operation, Mr. Erickson said.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a bar, restaurant or tavern that doesn’t have this” information, he said, adding that some bartenders and servers will suggest the service to patrons and even call a cab for them.

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