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By land or by sea: Be safe this holiday weekend

Officials emphasize preparedness on the water; heavy Memorial Day related traffic expected

By CJ HADDAD - | May 26, 2023

Whether you plan to hit the roads or the waterways this Memorial Day weekend, local officials are preaching preparedness and best practices to keep all travelers safe.

National Safe Boating Week runs from May 20-26 and kicks off the summer boating season — a popular recreational activity for droves of Florida residents and visitors.

Florida is recognized as the “Boating Capitol of the World,” leading the nation with more than 1 million registered vessels across the Sunshine State.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, in 2022, 54% of all vessel accidents involved collision. Officials said the primary causes for the accidents were “improper lookout and operator experience.”

“Our state is known worldwide as a prime boating spot for residents and visitors. Unfortunately, each year FWC officers respond to far too many tragic boating accidents that could have been prevented,” stated FWC Boating and Waterways Section Leader, Maj. Rob Beaton. “There were hundreds of accidents reported last year, involving almost 2,000 individuals.”

In an attempt to reduce the number of boating accidents, FWC encourages boaters to pay attention, maintain 360-degree awareness at all times, and take a boater safety course. FWC said in 2022, 70% of operators involved in fatal boating accidents had no formal boater education.

“We know that an educated boater is safer on the water,” Beaton continued. “Everyone can benefit from taking a boating safety course, it makes for a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone on board.”

Among many different tips provided by FWC, boaters are encouraged to find and wear a comfortable United States Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while on the water. They should also educate themselves on the dangers of impaired boating. Alcohol and drugs can impair a boater’s judgement, reaction time and overall ability to operate a boat safely.

“Boating while impaired by alcohol or drugs is dangerous and illegal,” Beaton stated. “FWC officers are always on the lookout for impaired operators and these operators will face arrest if found to be operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

For a summary of Florida’s regulations and available courses, visit: MyFWC.com/Boating.

To report dangerous boating activity, the public can submit anonymous tips by texting 847411 (Tip411) with keyword “FWC” followed by the location and any information about the violation or call 888-404-FWCC (3922). Additionally, there is a downloadable iPhone or Android app: “FWC Wildlife Alert.”

Hitting the road

AAA- The Auto Club Group, anticipates Floridians to travel in record numbers this Memorial Day Weekend, as they forecast nearly 2.4 million throughout the state will travel 50-plus miles. That number is 172,000 more than last year and nearly 100,000 more than pre-pandemic 2019.

An estimated 2.1 million will drive (137,000 more than 2022), while 208,000 are forecast to fly (25,000 more than last year).

“Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff to what promises to be a very busy summer travel season,” stated Vice President of Travel for AAA, Debbie Haas. “Despite various inflationary pressures, consumer spending is strong, and Americans still want to travel. Because of that, we’ve seen demand come roaring back, beyond pre-pandemic levels in Florida.”

Friday, May 26 will be the busiest day on the roads, according to INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights. The best times to travel by car, during the holiday weekend, will be in the morning or evening after 6 p.m. The lightest traffic days will be Saturday and Sunday. To avoid congestion, INRIX suggests driving during non-peak hours or using alternative routes.

For the 25th year, The Auto Club Group has provided the Tow to Go program. When called upon, The Auto Club Group dispatches a tow truck to transport the driver and vehicle to a safe location within a 10-mile radius for free. Since its inception, Tow to Go has removed more than 25,000 impaired drivers from the road. Tow to Go is active from 6 p.m. Friday, May 26, to 6 a.m. Tuesday, May 30.

Free confidential rides available to AAA members and non-members.

“By providing this program, AAA gives drivers no excuse for driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or impairing medications,” stated AAA spokesperson Mark Jenkins. “However, we remind people to treat Tow to Go as a last resort. Instead, make advanced plans for a safe ride home, because you do not want to be remembered on Memorial Day as the person who made the fatal mistake of driving impaired.”

The Tow to Go service can be reached by calling (855) 2-TOW-2-GO or (855) 286-9246.