Pack your patience, check your car and take it slow for holiday travel in Arizona

Rush hour traffic on Interstate 10 in downtown Phoenix. The I-10 and Interstate 17 corridor from north Phoenix to the southeast Valley carries 40 percent of the daily freeway traffic in the Valley. (File photo by Jessica Clark/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Law enforcement officials ask travelers to slow down and pack their patience as they drive Arizona roads during a busy and dangerous holiday season.

Nearly 900,000 drivers were on the road over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, and an AAA Arizona spokeswoman expects that number to increase from Christmas to New Year’s Day.

Last year, AAA predicted more than 97 million Americans would travel by cars from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1, far higher than the nearly 37 million who traveled over Memorial Day weekend this year.

Kameron Lee, a trooper for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said the agency’s main goal is to enforce safety.

“We know that everyone wants to get to their destination,” he said. “We want you to get to your destination, but we want you to get there safely.”

For congested areas of the road, Lee said DPS has a plan to keep traffic moving.

“We’ll actually up our manpower in certain areas to make sure we can respond quickly to incidents,” he said.

DPS also works with DUI task forces around the state to stop impaired drivers. Over the Thanksgiving weekend this year, officials made 420 DUI arrests, an increase over last year and 2016 Thanksgiving weekends, according to the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Public safety officials, liquor-industry and restaurant leaders on Tuesday launched a statewide DUI-enforcement campaign.

Doug Nintzel, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said earlier that the agency works closely with DPS to catch travelers who are impaired, speeding or not wearing their seat belts.

ADOT also uses overhead signs to alert drivers to freeway accidents and wrong-way drivers.

“We’re utilizing our signs along the highways, making sure there are messages out there, giving drivers updates on highway conditions as well as safety messages,” Nintzel said. “Of course, DPS has the role of being there as the enforcement agency.”

According to ADOT, over the three holiday weekends last year – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – 41 people died in vehicle crashes on Arizona roads. DPS said on Tuesday that there were no deaths on Arizona highways over this Thanksgiving weekend but that does not include all roads.

AAA Arizona also is gearing up to help people on the roads. Spokeswomen Michelle Donati said it will receive the most calls this holiday season for “lockouts, calls for battery help, as well as tire trouble.”

She cautions drivers to do all their pre-trip checks, including maintenance, battery life and repairs before hitting the asphalt, or they’ll end up spending the holidays with a roadside-assistance worker.

“Especially during the holiday season, we want to make sure that those who are broken down and have that unfortunate circumstance happen to them can get to their destination safely,” Donati said. “We definitely want to make sure that our tow truck drivers who are out there putting their lives on the line to help our motorists in Arizona get home to their families at the end of the day.”

ADOT encourages drivers to pack an emergency prep kit with flashlights, food and water in case of major road delays, especially during winter weather in the high country.

And here’s good news for motorists: ADOT will also be cutting back on construction projects and limiting road closure to ease traffic during the holidays.

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