As holidays approach, students head home

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    By Stephanie Schaerr

    Bags are packed, gas tanks are full and students all over campus are hungry for a break and a little home cooking. But with the excitement of family time and turkey comes the question of whether all of BYU?s students will make it back alive.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expects up to 567 fatalities on national highways during the Thanksgiving holidays, according to public affairs specialist Karen Aldana. Students who drive long distances home are especially at risk, as highways become more dangerous.

    Last year, three crashes killed six people over Thanksgiving weekend in Utah, said state trooper Jeff Nigbur. He said drivers should be responsible while traveling to prevent crashes this year.

    ?We want people to obey the speed limit,? he said. ?The more you speed, the more you aggravate a crash.?

    Jan Scharman, vice president of student life at BYU, said the school has seen some accidents over the holidays in the past, and they urged students to travel safely because they don?t want any more deaths. The office did not release exact numbers of students killed over the holidays, but said that it is always sad when students don?t make it back.

    Wearing safety belts is the most effective way to prevent death on the road this holiday season, according to the NHTSA. Highway patrollers will be out in full force this weekend showing zero tolerance for not buckling up.

    According to AAA, Thanksgiving is the most dangerous holiday for driving, with just as many people traveling during Thanksgiving as the winter holidays. But since Thanksgiving is a shorter break for most people, more drivers are on the road at once, speeding to get home faster to make the most of their vacation time.

    According to statistics from the NHTSA, 5,654 people were killed while traveling during Thanksgiving between 1994 and 2003, more than any other holiday during that 10-year period. Speeding caused 36 percent of those fatal crashes, and alcohol played a major role as well.

    As winter moves in, dangerous mountain passes become more treacherous as roads ice over. For those traveling in Utah, the Utah Department of Transportation recommends calling their road conditions hotline to decide whether to take a certain highway.

    Roylayne Fairclough, AAA Utah spokeswoman, said most people travel by car for Thanksgiving. Not all holiday accidents are caused by poor road conditions and alcohol. Drowsy drivers are almost as dangerous on the roads as drunk drivers.

    ?Drowsy driving is a huge problem,? Fairclough said. ?People stay up late and leave early in the morning, and fall asleep on the road.?

    According to AAA, fatigued drivers kill almost 1,500 people and cause $12.5 billion in damages each year. Students who plan to drive home for Thanksgiving need to be vigilant on the road, to look out for other drivers who may not have slept long enough and to make sure they are fit to drive themselves. AAA recommends getting a good night?s sleep, driving with a companion, and avoiding medication and alcohol before taking a road trip. If students plan to make a long road trip home for the holidays, AAA recommends napping periodically in a safe place ? not on the shoulder of the highway ? for less than 20 minutes and getting out to walk around every hour or so.

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