MSP: Drive without distraction this holiday weekend

James David Dickson

Fourth of July weekend is expected to be one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Michigan State Police will increase patrols to make sure it is a safe one for commuters.

A statement from the state police notes that troopers “will join their counterparts from across the country” in Operation Combined Accident Reduction Effort (Operation CARE), whose goal is “to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.”

Fourth of July weekend officially starts at 6 p.m. Friday and last through 11:59 p.m. Monday. During the Fourth of July weekend in 2015, Michigan had 11 fatal traffic crashes, resulting in 12 deaths.

Operation CARE, the statement said, is meant to deter aggressive driving, impaired driving, and failure to wear seat belts. State Police, who patrol Michigan’s freeways, will be looking for evidence of all three factors. The initiative started in 1977 as a collaboration between Michigan and Indiana State Police, and now includes state police from all 50 states.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, as of June 28, some 440 people have died in car crashes in Michigan this year. That’s 42 more than this time last year.

While MDOT declined to discuss why that increase might be, Anne Readett, spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning, explained the factors that might contribute to an increase — though Readett said that the office couldn’t make determinations specific to 2016 because the year isn’t over.

“Traffic fatalities are higher in the summer months than in winter,” Readett said. “People do two things when the weather is bad: they slow down, and they put (seat belts) on... And during a milder winter, more people ride motorcycles longer.”

Readett also noted that summer is a big time for vacations and travel, which causes people to drive more miles.

“There is an increase in alcohol involvement (in traffic crashes) in summer months as well,” Readett said.

During a similar enforcement campaign around Memorial Day, state troopers and sheriff’s deputies in Michigan initiated some 20,100 traffic stops, resulting in 7,952 seat belt and child restraint citations from May 23 to June 5.

“Driver behavior factors into nearly 90 percent of all fatal crashes,” MDOT says on its Toward Zero Deaths website, which tracks traffic fatality figures.