Life may not have completely returned to pre-pandemic normal, but holiday traffic is getting close.
The number of people driving and riding Virginia roadways is expected to match 2019 in numbers of miles traveled and vehicles traveling, according to Virginia State Police.
AAA agrees. The organization predicts 39.2 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, an 8.3% increase over 2021.
Air travel will be up 25% over last year, the second-largest increase since 2010, but the car is still king with American travelers. AAA predicts 34.9 million of the 39.2 million travelers will be in personal vehicles compared to 3 million in the air and 1.33 million riding the rails.
According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, the roads will be busy despite record-setting gas prices as a million Virginians will hit the road. That’s up nearly 5% from last year and represents more than 40,000 more travelers on the road for the holiday this year.
With the increase in holiday traffic comes an increase in holiday traffic enforcement. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and local law enforcement across the state are joining in a Click It or Ticket campaign to enforce seatbelt laws as well as other traffic ordinances. State police are joining with other agencies across the country for Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort, known as CARE.
“Virginians need to make traffic safety a priority every day, and with a large number of travelers expected on the road this Memorial Day weekend, as traffic increases so should their vigilance and patience,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent.
CARE is designed to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries due to impaired driving, speed and failing to wear a seat belt. The 2022 Memorial Day statistical counting period begins at 12:01 a.m. on May 27 and continues through midnight on Monday.
All available state police troopers and supervisors will be on patrol through the holiday weekend.
“Memorial Day weekend is filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals and backyard cookouts, which is why we need all drivers to comply with posted speed limits, be patient and alert, buckle up, and never drive buzzed or drunk,” Settle said.
During last year’s Memorial Day holiday, 15 people were killed in traffic crashes on Virginia roadways. Virginia troopers cited 5,553 speeders and 1,818 reckless drivers, and arrested 79 impaired drivers.
In addition, 740 individuals were cited for seat belt violations and 281 felony arrests were made.
Law enforcement will conduct saturation patrols and high-visibility enforcement along busy roads and highways, and specifically along the Route 60 corridor.
With the increased patrols, the state police also remind drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road.
If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
The Click It or Ticket campaign is designed to increase the use of seatbelts by enforcing the state law requiring they be worn. Virginia seat belt use rate is 81.7%, according to the 2021 statewide survey, which is the most recent. The national average is nearly 90%.
Last year in Virginia, there were 5,583 crashes involving unrestrained people, 3,854 unrestrained injuries and 334 deaths among motorists not wearing seatbelts.
Last year, almost half of the people killed in crashes were not wearing a belt, DMV figures show. Drivers and passengers between 21 and 35 were a third of those unrestrained fatalities. More than half of those fatalities happened between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m.
“Buckling up is among the most important things you can do to protect yourself and others in a vehicle,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Morgan Dean. “Modern cars are loaded with safety features that weren’t available just a few years ago. Those systems work in conjunction with a seat belt. That’s why it’s so important to buckle up, everyone, every time.”
“These facts gravely highlight the need for increased awareness of seat belt use,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “DMV and our safety partners continue to publicize messages about the importance of seat belt use throughout the year, but especially during our annual Click It or Ticket campaign.”