Drivers Hitting the Road For Independence Day

WHEELING – Roadways are expected to be humming today when many travelers planning Independence Day getaways will depart for their destinations, and local police are encouraging drivers to stay aware behind the wheel during the most-traveled holiday of the summer.

Today is the first day of the Independence Day travel period and the most popular departure date, with 32 percent of travelers leaving for their destinations, according to AAA Travel. Sunday, the final day of the travel period, is the most popular return date with 38 percent planning to come home that day.

Although the number of people on the roadways is expected to be less than last year, automobile travel continues to be the dominant mode of transportation. Approximately 34.4 million people, or 84 percent of travelers, plan to drive to their destinations. That is a 0.7-percent decrease from the 34.7 million who drove last year.

West Virginia State Police Sgt. Mike Hogan said the Wheeling detachment will deploy extra patrols beginning Thursday and continuing through Sunday to spot speeders, as well as intoxicated and distracted drivers.

The St. Clairsville detachment of the Ohio State Highway Patrol will use overtime hours to put extra troopers on roadways in Belmont and Monroe counties, according to Sgt. Don Britton. The increased, around-the-clock patrol began this morning and will continue through Thursday night.

Last year, Ohio troopers arrested 263 motorists for driving while impaired from July 3-4. During that 48-hour period, impaired driving was responsible for 87 crashes statewide, according to patrol statistics.

Independence Day is typically the busiest holiday of the summer travel season with 6 million more Americans traveling than on Memorial Day just two months ago, according to AAA. The Fourth of July benefits from the fact that schools across the nation are out of session.

AAA projects 40.8 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday, a 0.8 percent decrease from the 41.1 million people who traveled last year.

Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler said his department will have an increased presence on the roadways Thursday, as deputies who normally would be serving courtroom bailiff duty will be on patrol. He also reminded drivers of the recent law change that now requires all cell phone use by drivers to be aided by a hands-free device.

Highway Safety grants are funding extra patrols for the Wheeling Police Department, according to Chief Shawn Shwertfeger. Those extra patrols will be specifically targeting seat belt law violations, as well as distracted and intoxicated drivers at different hours today through Sunday.