Alabama Department of Public Safety's Sgt. Steve Jarrett talks to a driver in Montgomery that he stopped for not wearing a seat belt. Alabama law enforcement agencies kick off safety campaign today.
Gas prices remain about 80 cents a gallon higher now than they were this time last year. Clay Ingram, spokesman for AAA Alabama, said that is enough for many people to change their travel plans. However, AAA estimates 39 million nationwide still will travel the highways this weekend.
For law enforcement, impaired driving will be a particular focus, said Melanie McClure, programs director for the Council on Substance Abuse.
State and local law enforcement agencies are joining forces for a safety campaign starting today. The campaign also will remind people that safe boating is critical as well, McClure said.
There were 15 boating accidents in 2010 in which alcohol was a factor, along with six fatalities, according to the Alabama Marine Police.
The Fourth of July holiday period, meanwhile, sees some of the highest rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities on the nation's highways.
Independence Day ranks third behind New Year's Day and Labor Day as the holiday period with the highest percentages of traffic deaths that are alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There was an increase in alcohol-related crashes in Alabama in 2010, with 6,865 compared with 6,673 in 2009.
The increase in the month of July was particularly pronounced. There were 468 in July 2009, with 631 during the same month in 2010.
State troopers will work to spot impaired and otherwise dangerous drivers, said Robyn Bradley Litchfield, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
"We are going to be stepping up traffic enforcement efforts to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities," Litchfield said.
The effort will include saturation and line patrols and operation of laser speed detection devices from stationary vantage points, she said.
State police will continue the increased enforcement effort from 6 p.m. today until midnight Tuesday.
Many would-be travelers could decide to stay home, while others might look for ways to cut corners on their trip to offset fuel costs, Ingram said.
Those measures could include booking a cheaper hotel or packing a lunch for the trip, he said.
Overall, AAA expects there to be a 2.5 percent decrease in holiday traffic this year compared with last year.
Despite a fire that still rages in Gulf State Park, Gov. Robert Bentley is urging people to go ahead with plans to visit the Gulf Coast, and Ingram said the fire is unlikely to disrupt many travel plans.
"I don't think it will have much of an impact other than people who were planning to stay at the park," Ingram said.
Instead, the biggest factor remains the cost of gas.
The 20-cent per gallon drop in gas prices during the past month is likely "too little, too late" to make a positive impact on travel plans, Ingram said.