Thanksgiving can be a busy time of year for families and friends, but it can be an even busier time for law enforcement and, especially, state troopers.
During the five-day weekend of Thanksgiving, the Iowa State Patrol will have extra troopers out on patrol to help with the extra traffic and the estimated 49,000,000 people that will be hitting the highways across the country over the holiday.
But while it may be extra work, Trooper Dan Loussaert isn’t too concerned about it. “We work a few extra hours and we’ll have extra troopers working the holidays, but when everything goes right it’s not really extra work,” Loussaert said. “You just have extra troopers out there doing their normal job of looking for drivers who aren’t making safe choices and handling those situations.”
Still, Loussaert acknowledged the extra traffic and stress factors surrounding the holiday. “It’s obviously a big travel weekend. As far as Interstate 80, it’s the biggest interstate in the United States, so whether they’re coming to Iowa, going from Iowa or just travelling through, we’ll definitely have increased traffic.” State and county roads will also see this increase, so no matter where Muscatine residents may be going this Thanksgiving, traffic is very likely.
All of this extra traffic only puts a bigger strain on troopers whenever there’s an accident. With all the traffic passing through, there’s not only less room for the troopers to work quickly, but there’s also a bigger likelihood of a secondary crash. “A lot of times on the holidays, the secondary crash is worse than the first crash,” he said.
Another factor Loussaert acknowledged was the weather as most drivers aren't used to winter conditions yet. “When we have bad weather on Thanksgiving, it’s just one of the worst holidays to have it on,” he said.
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Even if they’ve already driven on snow days, there haven’t been enough of them to allow people to really practice and tune their winter driving skills. “Unfortunately, if we have winter conditions in Iowa over Thanksgiving, we’ll usually have a lot of crashes with some of them being fatal.”
However, by far the biggest Thanksgiving driving risk is impaired drivers. “For whatever reason, the Thanksgiving weekend has become more of an issue than years past. It’s kind of the new New Year’s, where we have fewer incidents on New Year’s Eve than we do Thanksgiving,” the trooper said.
While Muscatine residents that stay in the city during the holiday weekend may not have much to worry about, Loussaert had plenty of tips for those who are traveling. He recommended giving yourself extra time to get to your destination, have patience and to always pay attention to the road and stay off the phone as much as possible. Having a passenger there to help with GPS or maps or to answer the phone will also help minimize distractions. “No real rocket science with it, just a little common courtesy to each other on the roadways,” he said.
Loussaert also recommended calling your family or friends and letting them know when you’ll most likely be there and what route you’re taking, so in case you’re late they’ll still have a general idea of where you are. But above all else, he recommended that everyone in the car make sure to buckle up. “You can still be affected by someone else’s bad choice, and if you let the vehicle protect you by wearing a seatbelt, that definitely makes for the best outcome,” he said.
Always having plenty of fuel in your car as well as warm clothes and a cell phone charger also help in incidents where you get stranded somewhere.