HELENA — Holiday travel is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.
According to AAA, 53.4 million Americans are planning on traveling for Thanksgiving this week, nearly 6.4 million people more than last year. The numbers also show 48.3 million Americans are planning on traveling by car with an additional 4.2 million Americans planning on air travel for Thanksgiving.
Before hitting the road to head to grandma's house this holiday, there are some essential travel tips to remember. One reminder is to follow the law and move to the lane next to you when first responders are on the side of the road.
“There was nothing more scary honestly than getting the phone call that he had been hit," said Move Over Montana founder Bethany Rehbein.
Her husband is a highway patrolman who has been hit by vehicles passing too close for comfort. The Move Over Law in Montana can be a life-saving action.
It requires drivers to move into the lane that is furthest from the first responders or towing vehicles on the side of the road and slow down to an appropriate speed. It's why Rehbein founded Move Over Montana — to raise awareness about the Move Over Law.
“Our families go out and work on the side of the road we're not sure if they'll come back and we need the public to help protect them,” said Rehbein.
This is why people need to respond quickly to first responders on the side of the road to avoid sliding into a scene. “You need to keep your eyes on the road and slow down quite a bit when you go past them if you are unable to move over,” said Rehbein.
Montana Highway Patrol Sergeant Jay Nelson says that speeding is the biggest factor in recent highway fatalities.
“One of the trends we've seen in fatality crashes, especially this year is speed, understanding that that speed limit sign is for the most ideal conditions, and so when we have inclement weather, whether it's raining, whether it's sleet/snow, slow it down,” said Sgt. Nelson.
Nelson says it is the most important thing to keep yourself and others safe on the roads.
“As emergency responders, we have a lot of things on our mind that we're doing and the last thing sometimes we're thinking about is that traffic coming at us and so slow down, move over you might save a life,” said Sgt. Nelson.
Slowing down can save a life, and luckily for Sgt. Nelson, one incident shows how important seatbelts and speed can benefit you and others.
“I was on a motor vehicle crash I checked the roadway no one was there, I got into my patrol car. I started to start my crash report and it felt like a couple of seconds I have been in the car, and it was like a sledgehammer hitting me from behind and the young gal that did hit me. She was OK. She was completely hysterical that she had hit a police car. I said ‘Hey, as long as we're both OK, all is well,’ but it just shows you how quickly these things can happen and how much you really do have to slow down,” said Sgt. Nelson.
Winter driving can be scary with acclimating weather changes throughout the state, Sgt. Nelson says to be prepared.
“Montana is a vast wide-open state and we love that, but you might be stuck someplace where there's no cell coverage where people might not be passing by on a regular basis, have it in your car that has a blanket in there has some food rations, has a signaling type device a little flag or something that you can put on your car it says I need help. That's the biggest thing we can tell people, let people know if you are traveling a long distance say I'm leaving from here I'm going to this destination I should be there by such and such a time. Those are all important things that are calls that we respond to every day when it becomes winter that it could be a very bad situation,” said Sgt. Nelson.