Memorial Day signals the start of many summer vacations and road trips. Whether you’re planning to hitch up your boat or load up the trail bikes and tents, you and millions of others will head out onto Oregon roadways this Friday. As part of your holiday experience, we want you to stay safe, and recognize when it would be a good time to stop and take a brief nap or a stroll at one of our rest areas.
National and local transportation officials warn that the 2016 Memorial Day weekend is stacking up to be one of the deadliest in years. At the top of the list for reasons why? Low gas prices. As national average fuel prices dip lower and lower, more people will take holiday trips, adding more vehicles to already crowded highways, more distractions, and increased potential for impaired driving.
In the sections below, we’ve highlighted tips and facts from safety officials and transportation organizations. In the last section, you’ll find links to OTE’s rest area locations and amenities.
National Safety Council
The National Safety Council estimates 439 people could be killed and an additional 50,500 will be seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes during the three-day Memorial Day holiday period. If the estimate holds, this will be the deadliest Memorial Day holiday since 2009, when 462 Americans were killed on the nation’s roadways, according to federal data.
The estimate comes as traffic fatalities continue to trend upwards. In February, the National Safety Council released its preliminary estimates showing motor vehicle fatalities had increased 8 percent in 2015 compared to 2014 – the largest year-over-year percentage increase in 50 years. Memorial Day also marks the unofficial start of summer, which always is a dangerous time on the roads. More than 9,570 people died on U.S. roads in 2014 between May 24 and August 31.
“As Americans gear up for the most carefree months of the year, we cannot take our safety for granted,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Driving is one of the riskiest things we do every day. Engaging our defensive driving skills and staying alert can mean the difference between attending cookouts and family parties or spending the evening at the emergency room or worse.”
The Council believes the spike in fatal car crashes is due in part to an improving economy with lower gas prices and lower unemployment rates. Certain crash factors, such as speeding and alcohol, are more common during Memorial Day weekend and over the summer.
To help stay safe on the roads, the Council recommends:
- Making sure every passenger buckles up every trip. The Council estimates 104 people could be saved this Memorial Day holiday if they buckle up.
- Designating an alcohol and drug-free driver or arranging alternate transportation
- Getting plenty of sleep and taking regular breaks to avoid fatigue on long trips (Remember our Rest Area section below!)
- Never using a cell phone behind the wheel, even hands-free
- Staying engaged with your teens’ driving habits. An NSC survey found many parents are more inclined to loosen household driving rules during the summer.
- Learning about your vehicle’s safety systems and how to use them. MyCarDoesWhat? can help drivers understand the ins and outs of features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning systems and backup cameras.
Say no to distracted driving
Of the more sobering statistics, 71 percent of teen and young drivers say they have composed or sent text messages while driving. And, 78 percent of teens and young adults have read text messages while driving.
At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
Engaging in visual-manual sub-tasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
AAA projections – gasoline prices
AAA projects more than 38 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend. That is the second-highest Memorial Day travel volume on record and the most since 2005. Spurred by the lowest gas prices in more than a decade, about 700,000 more people will travel compared to last year. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 26 to Monday, May 30.
“Americans are eagerly awaiting the start of summer and are ready to travel in numbers not seen in more than a decade,” said Marshall Doney, AAA President and CEO. “The great American road trip is officially back thanks to low gas prices, and millions of people from coast to coast are ready to kick off summer with a Memorial Day getaway.”
AAA estimates that Americans have saved more than $15 billion on gas so far this year compared to the same period in 2015, and prices are at the lowest levels in 11 years. The strong labor market and rising personal income are also motivating people to travel for Memorial Day this year.
Nearly 34 million (89 percent) holiday travelers will drive to their Memorial Day destinations, an increase of 2.1 percent over last year as a result of lower gas prices. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline today is $2.26, 45 cents less than last year. AAA expects most U.S. drivers will pay the lowest Memorial Day gas prices since 2005. According to a recent AAA survey, 55 percent of Americans say they are more likely to take a road trip this year due to lower gas prices. Although Oregon service station prices moved upwards from earlier in the year, our state’s average gasoline price remains under $2.50 per gallon.
OTE tips for a safe trip – find a rest area near you
Quick quiz: You’ve been on the road for four hours. You polished off the last coffee, tea, soda, or water two hours ago. Your stomach is rumbling. Oddly enough, even though you’ve been paying attention to mileage signs, you’ve lost track of whether you have another 300 or 500 miles to go before you reach your destination. And, your phone has been beeping for the last five miles that someone is sending a text message.
Should you stop at the next rest area, even if you don’t feel the need “to go?”
We at OTE would answer in the affirmative. The “Arrive Alive” slogan may as though we’re exaggerating the effects of fatigued or distracted driving. However, even if you are minimally affected by long-distance driving, all it takes is a few seconds of twiddling the radio dial, turning around to check on a pet, or checking a text message is enough to place you or another driver in deep and life-threatening circumstances. As noted in the distracted driving section, five seconds is all it takes to land you or other travelers in a world of hurt.
Visit an OTE rest area
If you would like to walk the dog, set up a picnic lunch, or take a much needed stretch along some of our rest area walking paths, several of our rest area locations boast up to 50 acres of public park-like land. They’re yours to use any time of the day or night.
If rest area safety is a concern, note that OTE employees are on the grounds seven days a week and 8 hours a day (generally between 7:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m.). Our security is enhanced with cooperation from local law enforcement and the Oregon State Patrol. A 24-hour dispatch operator is available to call. They can contact OTE staff after hours for rest area facility malfunctions or emergencies. Law enforcement are familiar with each of our rest area locations and staff, and are accessible by telephoning 9-1-1.
For more information about OTE rest area locations and their amenities (picnic tables, potable water, walking trails, etc., please link to our Highway Safety Rest Areas page on our website.
Time to pull over and smell the coffee
Did you know that fresh and free hot coffee is served in many of our rest area locations? OTE helps manage the state sanctioned highway safety Free Coffee Program that lets drivers rest and refresh. Local non-profit volunteers who staff the free coffee program use motorist donations to fund their charitable organizations. For more information about free coffee service locations and a calendar displaying non-profit volunteers, visit the Free Coffee Program page on our website.