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Buckle up and slow down this Memorial Day weekend

As Memorial Day approaches, we should be reminded of those in the armed forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It is typically the last weekend of the school year and that means summer is right around the corner. Compare this year to 2020 when lockdowns and quarantines were in full swing. There was little to no traffic on Iowa roadways as many people had no option but to stay home. This year’s Memorial Day weekend will likely prove to be quite different.

The Iowa State Patrol has set a goal to have less than 300 traffic fatalities on Iowa highways. In 2020, there were 337 reported traffic fatalities. So far this year, there have been 100 deaths, up from 88 this time last year. Our initiative this year is called S.I.D.E., which is an acronym for Seat Belts, Impaired Driving, Distracted Driving, and Excessive Speed. These are common violations that can have deadly consequences, but certainly can be avoided.

Speed is the No. 1 contributing factor in one-third of all fatal car accidents. People often get in a hurry and try to make up some time by stepping on the accelerator. Have you ever been passed by someone who looks irritated by you driving the speed limit, just to meet them at the same red light? They don’t realize it didn’t save them any time. In fact, they probably will spend more money on gas (and traffic tickets) by driving faster. Troopers have also seen a significant increase in high speed violations. In 2019, there were 659 citations issued for speeds over 100 mph. In 2020, that number more than doubled to 1,497.

While Iowa has an overall seat belt compliance rating of 95 percent, usually around 50 percent of those killed in car crashes are unbuckled. It just takes a couple of extra seconds to buckle your seat belt. Make sure everyone in your car is buckled up before you hit the road. There is no last-minute chance to put on your seat belt when it’s too late. Either you have it on, or you don’t. In a head-on or rollover crash, that seat belt may be the difference between you walking away or being carried away.

In the last 20 years, cell phones have brought instant information into our hands evolving from basic mobile communication to instant information and entertainment all in one device. The cell phone is now something we use in our everyday lives for all kinds of activities. We encourage motorists to pull over if the need arises to text a message or if your phone call will take an extensive amount of time. Of course, distracted driving can also include talking to passengers, changing the radio station, eating and drinking. It can be anything that takes your attention away from the road.

Troopers work fatality crashes on a regular basis. The hardest part of this job is having to deliver the message that their loved one won’t be coming home. Accidents involving children are the worst. No matter where you go in the United States, the job and the challenges we face are the same. Our message to you this summer is Buckle Up, Slow Down, Put the phone down, and Don’t Drink and Drive. Enjoy your Memorial Day and be careful out there!

Trooper Paul Gardner is assigned to Iowa State Patrol District 7 in Fort Dodge.

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