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Thanksgiving, Black Friday traffic up from 2020 level

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Roadways were hectic during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, with traffic volume resembling the years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We handled 13 crashes in that timeframe,” Sgt. Brian McFarland of the Ohio State Highway Patrol St. Clairsville post said. “We arrested four (people for operating a vehicle while under the influence) and stopped approximately 190 cars in that timeframe. We issued 72 tickets, four of them for OVI, and issued 14 seat belt tickets.”

He said the majority of travel occurred Wednesday, prior to Thanksgiving.

“That’s usually the busiest time when it comes to impaired drivers. A lot of people are home from school and sometimes they don’t work on that Thursday, so there’s the opportunity to go out, and people want to go out and celebrate before the holiday,” he said.

“The traffic was heavy, but it wasn’t overwhelming by any means,” McFarland said. “We can’t really compare it to last year because of COVID, but it’s nothing outside the norm.”

McFarland advises the public to exercise caution during the final weeks of 2021.

“We’re still fighting the distracted driving obviously, and will close out the year looking for impaired drivers and seat belt problems,” McFarland said. “We’ll utilize some (federal) overtime for the Christmas holiday.

“There’s plenty of options out there if you’re going to go out and celebrate for the holidays. You can use Uber drivers.

“You can use taxi cabs or just designate someone to be your designated driver. All we want is for people to celebrate the holidays and for everyone to be safe,” he said.

AAA Public Affairs Manager Kimberly Schwind said final numbers indicating the number of vehicles on Ohio’s roads would not be ready until next year’s Thanksgiving travel forecast, but the organization had predicted the fourth highest Thanksgiving travel volume on record, an increase of 13 percent from last year.

“There definitely was a lot of traffic on the roadways, anecdotally speaking,” Schwind said. “It was definitely busy.”

She referred to some initial reports of calls for roadside assistance.

“We only cover a fraction of the state of Ohio,” she said. “Overall I think this is going to be pretty representative of what we’re seeing on the roadways around the state and around the region. This year, we saw a 12 percent increase in emergency roadside assistance calls during the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period compared to last year. Last year, we saw a 7 percent drop to 2019, and when you compare 2021 to 2019, we saw a 4 percent increase to emergency roadside assistance calls this year, compared to before the pandemic in 2019, so even higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have more travelers,” she said. “Maybe people’s cars have stopped and they really haven’t taken care of them like they should be, so really focusing on that vehicle maintenance is key, especially as we get into the winter months to try and prevent breakdowns.”

Schwind did not speculate on whether the trend would continue.

“It’s difficult to say what exactly will happen for Christmas with the new Omicron variant … but if Thanksgiving was any indication, it looks like we’re kicking off a pretty busy holiday travel season,” she said. “It seems like people want to get out again and they want to travel. We’ve seen numbers up earlier this year.”

Schwind said motorists should also take care of vehicles that may have been neglected during 2020.

“People’s cars were sitting a lot last year, and now we’re getting back out on the roadways and especially taking those big road trips, it’s really important to get your car ready. If your car hasn’t been in for routine maintenance in awhile, definitely get it in,” she said.

Schwind reminded drivers to check their tire tread depth and pressure. Batteries older than three years should also be replaced.

“We’ll often see as we head into the winter months roadside assistance calls double or triple. … We see a lot of dead batteries because of cold weather. We see a lot of sliding out on slick roads. We see a lot of flat tires.”

Other items to keep on hand include flashlights, batteries, blankets, food, jumper cables and a mobile phone charger.

“It’s a good idea to talk to a travel adviser who can guide you through this rapidly changing travel landscape, because it could change in a moment’s notice,” she said. “Planning ahead is going to be key and has been key throughout this whole pandemic.”

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