With Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of the summer traveling season, the State Patrol is stressing driver safety.
Safety is especially important this weekend, as AAA predicts the number of travelers nationwide will be up from last year.
"Despite the high cost of gasoline and the economic pressures facing families going into this travel season, motorists are intending to travel as much as ever," said Daron Van Helden, spokesperson for AAA Minnesota/Iowa.
There were two area fatalities during Memorial Day weekend in 2000, one in Crow Wing County and one in Wadena County. In 2000, the Brainerd district of the State Patrol had more fatalities than any other outstate area, Capt. Joe Schueller said.
Schueller said main contributors to traffic accidents and fatalities are lack of seat belts, speed and alcohol.
"This weekend we'll have the normal business and commuter traffic, plus the tourists in the area," Schueller said. "People need to be alert, aware and courteous (toward other drivers)."
How important are seat belts? On May 16 two people died and three others were severely injured in an accident on Highway 371, just north of Pine River. The two people who died, plus another passenger, were thrown from their vehicle.
No one involved in the accident was wearing a seat belt, and the two who died might be alive if they'd worn their seat belts, Schueller said.
"The chance of surviving an accident with a seat belt on is much greater than without," he said.
Schueller also stressed motorists should maintain a safe distance when following other vehicles.
Approximately 28.5 million people plan to travel by motor vehicle this weekend, 6.2 million in the Midwest alone, AAA reported. Those numbers are up 1 percent from the 28.4 million who drove a year ago.
Along with increased numbers of vehicles on the road, motorists will have to watch out for construction in the area.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported a six-mile stretch of Highway 6 south of Emily is closed for reconstruction. There will be a detour on County Road 11 to County Road 109, to County Road 3, to County Road 36, back to Highway 6. The detour adds 16 miles to the original route of travel.
However, this will be the first Memorial Day weekend that the Highway 371 bypass is open, and MnDOT is hoping the new highway will significantly improve the time it takes to move motorists through the area. It is estimated the new highway could save up to 30 minutes of travel time.
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