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Highway safety knows no season

By Staff
When some families sit down for Christmas this year, there will be 20 empty chairs.
That’s how many people died on North Carolina roads during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. That’s 20 lives that have been cut short. That’s Judith Days, a 62-year-old from Ocala, Fla., who was driving home to Florida. She and grandchildren William Harper, 4, and Jessica Harper, 15, died along the side of Interstate 95 in Johnston County. Troopers said she was likely distracted and struck a sign, then over-corrected, causing the van she was driving to overturn several times.
Does it have to be that way?
Sadly, if history is a judge, that’s about the normal number of traffic deaths during a holiday weekend. Last year was an exception. Only 11 people were killed on North Carolina roads. It’s hard to say “only” when dealing with human lives, but a typical figure is closer to at least 20. In 2005, the death toll was 21. It was 24 in 2004.
You can’t blame the North Carolina Highway Patrol. They were out in force for the long weekend. More than 51,000 motorists were ticketed during a week-long, statewide crackdown. Of those citations, 24,274 were for speeding and 954 were for driving while impaired, or DWI.
Lt. Everett Clendenin, a spokesman, says the Highway Patrol plans to continue the campaign by using motorcycles and unmarked patrol cars.
Operation Slow Down was created because speed remains the leading cause of traffic collisions and fatal accidents in the state. Speeding citations have continued to increase during the past five year, and speeding violations in excess of 100 mph have increased 175 percent since 1999, according to the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.
The Highway Patrol used helicopters along several interstate highways, including Interstate 77 in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties, Interstate 40 in Wake and Johnston counties and Interstate 95 in Roberson County.
There is no way a few hundred troopers can keep 1.09 million North Carolina motorists in line, and that was the number out for the holiday weekend. And the reality is when people take to the road, some of them don’t come back. Deaths during the holidays seem even more tragic, but the truth is — on the average — a person dies on N.C. roads every five to six hours, holiday or no holiday. And that’s just North Carolina. In Virginia, the death toll for the year was at 924 as of Saturday.
The next time you see the stern look on a trooper’s face, remember that face has seen tragedy the likes you, hopefully, will never see. He or she has seen death up close, and has been virtually powerless to stop it. Think of that when you look into the faces of your loved ones. Is getting somewhere a few minutes sooner worth the risk of losing your life or their lives?