LAURINBURG — State and local officials will undertake a series efforts to keep the public safe during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol along with the Governor’s Highway Safety Program will be joining forces with local law enforcement agencies from across the state by participating in the N.C. Interstate Challenge Campaign.
The campaign will focus special attention to all major interstate highways within North Carolina during the holiday weekend.
Increased patrols will be used during this initiative by placing a trooper or local officer every 20 miles throughout each interstate corridor to include I-74 and I-95.
The effort began on Wednesday and will be in place again on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday through Sunday with the highest number of travelers departing for their destinations on Wednesday and most returning on Sunday.
The purpose of the campaign is to combat fatal collisions along targeted highways in hopes of obtaining a desired goal of zero deaths within the campaign’s allotted time frame. The philosophy entitled “Vision Zero” is being used by all agencies on the state and local level.
To run concurrent with the N.C. Interstate Challenge, the Highway Patrol will also be participating in a national campaign entitled the I-40 Challenge. Neighboring states to include Arizona, Arkansas, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas will be targeting several violations to include speeding, distracted driving, seat belt use, following too closely, and driving while impaired.
“Thanksgiving is a time when families come together to enjoy one another,” said Colonel Bill Grey, commander of the State Highway Patrol. “Our mission is to ensure every motorist arrives safely to their destination. This will be accomplished through partnerships with law enforcement agencies both statewide and nationally.”
The safety campaigns come as more people are expected to be on North Carolina roads.
An estimated 1,353,000 North Carolinians are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday, a 0.6 percent increase over last year, according to AAA Carolinas.
Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous holidays for motorists due to its five-day length and the heavy traffic caused by the high number of travelers on the road. Last year, the number of deaths on North Carolina highways during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend nearly tripled the previous year with 32 fatalities compared to 12 in 2013.
“With Thanksgiving being the busiest travel weekend of the year we want to remind everyone to take extra measures to be safe on the road. We encourage all motorists to be defensive drivers and eliminate distractions behind the wheel,” said Dave E. Parsons, AAA Carolinas president.
Those travelers taking a road trip are expected to experience the lowest gas prices since 2008.
“North Carolinians will enjoy an early holiday bonus with cheaper prices at the pump,” Parsons said. “Lower gas prices should help families kick off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving getaway.”
Gas prices in North Carolina have declined steadily over the past few months. The statewide average today is $2.07, down 70 cents from last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, when the average was $2.77.
Those driving through North Carolina will encounter the highest average price per gallon of unleaded gas in Asheville at $2.15; the least expensive average price is in the Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point area at $2.03.
North Carolina motorists can expect to see lower gas prices in the bordering states of South Carolina ($1.88), Virginia ($1.94), Tennessee ($1.93), and Georgia ($2.05).
Scotland County Sheriff Ralph Kersey said people who decide to stay close to home and take advantage of holiday shopping need to be careful too.
“The holiday season is right around the corner and shoppers are crowding malls and discount stores to buy the latest gadgets and find the best deals,”Kersey said.
But the sheriff said what shoppers often neglect is their safety.
“This time of year attracts more shopping-related criminal activity because of the larger crowds and the extended store hours,’ he said. “These factors and the usual distraction of shopping, creates a more favorable environment for petty thieves and other offenders.
Kersey said Scotland County residents to follow these safety tips:
— A single shopper is the best target for theft. Always shop with a friend or relative.
— When going shopping, tell someone where you are going and what time to expect you to return. Also, make sure they know what you are wearing, as well as the type of vehicle you are driving.
— Shop during daylight hours. If you shop at night, park your vehicle in a well-lit area.
— Dress casually and comfortably and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. If carrying cash, keep it in your front pocket rather than in a purse or wallet. This makes it much more difficult for a pick-pocket to remove. Also store car keys in a pants or jacket pocket. If your purse is stolen, you will still be able to drive home.
— Pay careful attention to your surroundings and avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps.
— If you feel uneasy returning to your vehicle alone, find a security guard and ask them to walk you to your car.
— Keep a close watch on your credit card every time you use it, and make sure you get it back as quickly as possible.
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023