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Don’t be a statistic this holiday

Holiday travelers will see higher gas prices this year than last year, when it was $1.57 at Thanksgiving time. The price of gas in Cedar Springs Tuesday afternoon was $2.46 per gallon.

Holiday travelers will see higher gas prices this year than last year, when it was $1.57 at Thanksgiving time. The price of gas in Cedar Springs Tuesday afternoon was $2.46 per gallon.

AAA is estimating that 1.2 million Michiganians will travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving holiday, with about 87 percent of travelers driving. And if the five-year average stands, there will be about 14 deaths from traffic crashes.

“While the economy presents challenges for many Michigan residents, the desire to spend time with family and friends is strong. Our highways and airports will be busy this holiday,” said Claire Lockley, Travel vice president with The Auto Club Group, which includes AAA Michigan.

But, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, there’s one sure recipe that can turn a joyful holiday into a tragedy: failure to buckle up and driving drunk.

Over the past five years, Michigan has averaged 14 traffic deaths during the Thanksgiving holiday period. During the 2008 Thanksgiving weekend, 13 people died in traffic crashes in Michigan. Ten of those fatalities involved alcohol and eight of those who died were not buckled up.

“Seat belts are the single most important safety device in your vehicle and they have saved countless lives and prevented untold numbers of injuries over the years,” said Michael L. Prince, Office of Highway Safety Planning director. “Be safe this Thanksgiving by making sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up before you start your trip.”

Michigan’s seat belt use rate has steadily climbed over the past decade and currently stands at a record-high 97.9 percent, the highest in the nation. But last year, of the 841 vehicle occupants who died in traffic crashes, 244 were not restrained.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belt use is the best defense in a crash. Research has shown that when lap and shoulder belts are used properly, the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants is reduced by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury is reduced by 50 percent.

Motorists are also reminded to designate a sober driver this holiday season. About 35 percent of all traffic fatalities in Michigan involve alcohol and/or drugs.

A first-time drunk driving conviction carries heavy penalties including up to 93 days in jail, up to a $500 fine, up to 360 hours of community service, six points on a driver’s license and up to 180 days’ license suspension.

In addition, convicted drunk drivers will be subject to a $1,000 fee for two consecutive years, for a total of $2,000 in additional costs. Anyone who refuses a breath test the first time is given an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension.

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