It's that time of year again when local residents do everything they can to avoid having to drive on the interstate — Thanksgiving travel time.
Thanksgiving is the time when the most Americans take to the roads to spend time with friends and relatives. According to AAA, it is estimated that more than 55 million people across the country will be packing the car and heading out — either driving straight through to their destinations or driving to airports across the U.S.
With that many people on the roads the odds are stacked against drivers, especially those who don't take the time to heed some basic warnings prior to leaving their driveways.
Louisiana State Police Troop D Sgt. James Anderson said drivers should be prepared for congestion.
"We've had to shut the highway down for over seven hours in the past; just imagine if something like that happened this week," he said. "Make sure you're prepared with water and snacks."
Of course, in addition to staying hydrated and having something to keep your blood sugar regulated — travelers should always carry essentials such as a flashlight, blanket and first aid kits.
Creating a "just-in-case" box that stays in the trunk or under the seats all year round is a good idea, Anderson said.
"We always want to re-open the highways as soon as possible, but sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control," he said.
Once safety kits are taken care of, actually packing the vehicle for travel is also an important safety factor.
"Don't overpack the vehicle," Anderson said. "Every vehicle has a sticker on the door jamb that tells people what the maximum weight that vehicle can handle is, with people and cargo."
Ensuring that windows are not blocked by luggage or other items brought along for the ride is equally important.
Be sure not to stuff the back window area of a vehicle with pillows or blankets, which can obscure a driver's view.
"Bringing pets along when people travel can be just as dangerous a distraction as cell phones, or eating while driving," Anderson said.
If Fido must make the trip, it's best he does so in the proper pet carrier to ensure his safety as much as the safety of those in the vehicle.
With the car now safely packed, and any pets secured in their proper traveling apparatus, it's almost time to hit the road. At this stage in the game, Anderson said to "check out the vehicle."
"Walk around the car," he said. "Take a look at your tires; open the hood and check your windshield washer fluid, power steering fluid, oil. Make sure your vehicle is ready and able to make a trip.
Once that task is completed, the next most important thing to remember is to buckle up. Forgetting this simple safety rule can and does prove fatal.
"I was at the scene of a crash a few weeks ago where two people lost their lives and some more were seriously injured," Anderson said. "One of the people who lost their lives and one of the people who were seriously injured failed to wear their seatbelts. People need to put their seatbelts on and leave them on."
Anderson also warned potential travelers that this week will be a "Click it or Ticket" campaign week for the Louisiana State Police; and the reason for that leads right into the next safety tip for holiday travelers — don't drive impaired.
"Whether its alcohol, drugs, prescription medicine," he said, "if you are impaired by it, you shouldn't be driving a motor vehicle."
Anderson acknowledged it's a festive time of year when a lot of folks do choose to indulge in a cocktail or two, but remaining off the roadways is key for those who do.
"This is another reason for people to buckle up and stay buckled up," he said. "If someone does decide to drive under the influence, the seatbelt can absolutely save lives."
Taking these few extra precautions before loading up for a holiday trip shouldn't take much time out of the travel agenda at all; arriving for the family feast safe and sound makes every extra second spent in preparation worth it, he said.