This weekend — Memorial Day weekend — is the start of what many consider the summer season, with a three-day weekend, cook-outs, family gatherings, area pools opening, all amidst temperatures rising toward summertime heat. Not too long down the road is July 4, the hot sweltering days of summer, all capped off a few weeks later with the three-day Labor Day weekend.
Good times for many.
This weekend also starts the most dangerous time of year on highways in Surry and Stokes counties, when most highway fatalities take place.
“Those are the 100 deadliest days — Memorial Day through Labor Day,” said North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Fletcher Pipes. “That’s when the majority of your fatalities take place.”
In the two-county area he serves, Stokes and Surry, Pipes said fatalities do happen all throughout the year, but that stretch between Memorial and Labor days seem to be when the overwhelming majoring of them occur.
Even more frustrating for him and other troopers who work those fatal wrecks, most of them could be avoided with two simple acts — driving the speed limit and drivers saying off of cell phones.
“Basically people speeding and not paying attention is getting them killed,” Pipes said.
In 2022, the sergeant said there were 26 fatal wrecks in the two-county area. Eight of them were caused by excessive speed, while 16 were the results of inattention. Most of those latter cases, he said, were drivers messing with their cell phones.
Already this year, there have been five fatal wrecks in the two-county region — three over the past month — and Pipes said he would like to buck recent trends and keep those numbers from jumping over the next three months.
This weekend, as is the case with most holidays, Sgt. Pipes said the Highway Patrol will be out en force, with more troopers cruising the highways, setting up radar, and running checkpoints. He said his agency will pay particular attention to traffic on interstates 74 and 77, as well as U.S. 52, Old U.S. 52, and NC Route 8 — those are what he described as the more major traveled roads, “high collision roads.”
He said drivers may also see more highway signs reminding them to take it easy while driving and to pay attention.
All of those efforts, Pipes said, is aimed at one purpose — to keep people safe.
In truth, he said troopers would be just fine if there was never a reason to pull over drivers or hand out tickets.
“What we’re trying to do is to reduce our fatal accidents,” he said of the increased presence. “We’re being proactive, hoping to maybe get people to pay attention a little bit more.”
The sergeant said it is important for drivers to remember even if they don’t care enough about their own safety, when they speed, when they decide to glance at their phones, they are putting other drivers around them in danger.
Even if no one else is involved, he said a fatal accident can have devastating effects beyond the fate of the driver.
“Any time there’s a fatality, people are affected,” he said. “Whether it’s a mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, there are people who love them and who will miss them. You may be in the car by yourself and run off the road and hit a tree, but your death will affect other people. I see this firsthand when I do the next of kin notifications.”
“We encourage people to slow down, put the phone down, give driving your undivided attention, and get to your destination safe and have a good weekend. That’s what we want, for everyone to get to their destination safely…we want them to have fun, we don’t want to have to go to someone’s house and tell them their loved one’s dead and not coming home.
“We hope people will just pay attention to the road.”
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