'Safety doesn't take a holiday': Roadside responders warn of dangers ahead of Thanksgiving travel

AAA Roadside Assistance
Posted at 11:41 PM, Nov 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-21 23:41:55-05

CINCINNATI — As a near-record number of travelers are expected to hit the roads for Thanksgiving, drivers are urged to have more than holiday destinations on their minds.

"It is the third-highest number of Thanksgiving travelers since we've been recording the numbers [in 2000]," said Cincinnati AAA spokesperson Cheryl Parker.

AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving. That’s a 1.5% increase over 2021 and 98% of pre-pandemic volumes. 

Most travelers will drive to their destinations, much like last year. Nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car, according to AAA.

With more traffic comes more risk of crashes or car problems, and that means more emergency vehicles on the side of the road.

From tow jobs to dead batteries, typically during Thanksgiving week, Parker said the Cincinnati AAA Roadside Assistance garage on West 5th Street gets an average of 400 calls for service a day.

"Just today ... dozens and dozens of calls just this morning," Parker said. "We see college students who are leaving campuses heading home, a lot of breakdowns around Xavier and Cincinnati."

Often times crews have little room to work as traffic speeds past. That's why roadside first responders are urging drivers to move over and slow down when they see flashing lights.

"Move Over" laws are now enacted in all 50 states. Ohio's version requires all drivers to move over one lane passing by any vehicle with flashing or rotating lights parked on the roadside on interstates or state highways.

If drivers cannot safely change lanes, the law requires them to slow down and use caution.

The original law took effect in 1999 to reduce risk to law-enforcement officers, emergency responders and tow operators. It was expanded in December 2013 to apply to every stationary vehicle with flashing lights including road construction, maintenance and utility crews.

In Ohio, "Move Over" violators are fined $300 for the first violation (a minor misdemeanor), $500 for the same violation within a year of the first and $1,000 for more than two violations in a year.

For the same reason it was enacted across the country, Ohio's law aims to protect first responders and prevent tragedies. Unfortunately, they still happen.

Firefighter Johnny Tetrick, a 27-year veteran of the Cleveland Fire Division, was fatally hit by a car while responding to a rollover crash on I-90 Saturday night.

Tetrick's death adds to a sobering statistic.

Across the nation, hundreds of people are killed or injured every year when they’re struck by a vehicle after pulling over to the side of the road or highway. On average, these “struck-by” crashes kill one tow-truck driver every six days; 23 highway workers and one law-enforcement officer every month; and five firefighters every year, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Like AAA, Ohio State Police is anticipating high run volume this holiday as well.

Sgt. Ryan Purpura with Ohio State Police shared statistics with WCPO 9. From midnight Wednesday, Nov. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, Ohio state troopers responded to 809 injury crashes statewide — 14 of those were fatal.

Troopers arrested 300 people for operating a vehicle while impaired and arrested 147 for drugs. They also issued citations for 669 safety belt and 106 distracted driving violations. In total, troopers assisted 1,822 motorists.

So far in 2022 however, there have been 94 fewer people killed in Ohio traffic crashes compared to last year.

So, as drivers try to head home for Thanksgiving, roadside crews hope they keep both their own safety and the safety of everyone else on the road top of mind.

"Extend that courtesy to them," said Parker. "They want to get home to their families for Thanksgiving and every other day."