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Troopers seek safe roads this holiday season

It’s that time of year again, the holiday season is upon us. This week, most celebrations will involve many traditions including family and friends sitting down having Thanksgiving dinner together, watching football on TV, and getting up at O-dark-thirty to do some “Black Friday” Christmas shopping. It’s a time to reflect and give thanks for the many blessings we have in life. Unfortunately, this is also a time of year that many families will have an empty seat at the table because a loved one was killed in a car accident.

Because Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel holidays of the year, more vehicles will be on the road, and with that will bring an increased risk of traffic crashes. Last year, we lost seven lives on Iowa highways during the Thanksgiving holiday, which is a 10 year high. This week, the Iowa State Patrol will continue to be focused on promoting safety with our S.I.D.E. initiatives, an acronym for Seat Belts, Impaired Driving, Distracted Driving, and Excessive Speed. These are four dangerous trends that continue to plague our highways.

Seat Belts: The first step in defensive driving is buckling your seat belt. It has been proven seat belts save lives. Throughout this year, around 47 percent of fatalities were not wearing a seat belt. Your chance of surviving a crash is increased considerably just by buckling up. So many fatal crashes our troopers have responded to involve people that could have survived had they been wearing a seat belt. It’s either on or it’s not. If it’s not, being pulled over and paying a fine could be the least of your worries as opposed to the alternative of being in a car accident without it. Please take the couple of extra seconds before putting the car in drive to fasten your seat belt.

Impaired Driving: In 2022, out of the 338 traffic deaths on Iowa highways, 115 of those were attributed to impairment by alcohol or drugs. Since Thanksgiving is a holiday in which alcohol sales increase, it is important to remind those who celebrate with alcoholic beverages to be responsible and arrange for a designated driver. The best thing a party host can do is take the car keys away from anyone who has been drinking. Doing this could save their life. The night before Thanksgiving, known in many circles as “Blackout Wednesday,” is a night known for binge drinking that rivals New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day. While not everyone will celebrate during this particular event, it is extremely important that anyone who is buzzed or intoxicated to make arrangements ahead of time and get a sober ride home.

Distracted Driving: Cell phones have proven to be a double-edged sword. Technology has advanced considerably over the last couple of decades and cell phones are no exception. What used to be a device we could just pick up and make a quick phone call (especially when mobile plans only allowed for 30 minutes of talk per month and sometimes sketchy reception) now is capable of navigation, instant communication with social media, and has an app for just about everything. Distractions come in many forms, but we generally see this as involving texting and driving. Most drivers don’t realize the distance they actually cover while distracted, and any activity that takes their eyes away from the road can be dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2021 there were 3,522 lives lost due to distracted driving.

Excessive Speed: It wasn’t too long ago that when a trooper stopped a car for going 100 plus mph, it was a rare occurrence. In 2020, when COVID-19 lockdowns contributed to desolate roadways, it seemed like there wasn’t a day that went by without a trooper getting a triple-digit speed on the radar, sometimes multiple times in a shift. Unfortunately, this trend has continued causing far too many tragedies. Back in July 2022, a crash that took three teenage lives happened in Dubuque involving a super-charged Chevy Camaro doing upwards of 150 mph. There were three different families impacted by this tragedy with three young lives gone too soon. This Thanksgiving, they will have three empty chairs at the dinner table caused by reckless driving which was totally preventable. The Iowa State Patrol gained possession of this vehicle to display at the Iowa State Fair and school districts across the state to show the deadly consequences of excessive speeding.

Every year, the Iowa State Patrol has a goal to have under 300 traffic deaths. Unfortunately, we have already surpassed that number this year. The last time Iowa had less than 300 was back in 1925, almost 100 years ago. If we can get more drivers buckling up and slowing down, and less driving under the influence and distracted behind the wheel, we can certainly reach this goal in the future. Please do your part in making our roadways safe. Happy Thanksgiving from the Iowa State Patrol.

Trooper Paul Gardner is the public resource officer for the Iowa State Patrol District 7 in Fort Dodge.

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