PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — With the holiday weekend just days away, many Central Illinoisans are taking to the road or sky to visit friends and family.
This year, there are many reasons to be extra vigilant on the road, extra careful in the airport, and extra patient as people make their way to their destinations.
On the road
“We definitely look at enforcing our four most common causes of fatal crashes,” said Illinois State Polie (ISP) Trooper Jayme Bufford. “[Those] would be driving under the influence, speeding, not wearing your seatbelt, and, of course, distracted driving.”
Bufford said holiday travel can lead to many distractions while driving, whether it’s kids in the backseat, trying to navigate with a GPS, or being on the phone. She said of the four common causes of fatal crashes, distracted driving is probably the most important to avoid and look out for.
Also, Dec. 23 is Scott’s Law Day, also known as the Move Over Law.
“If you come upon an emergency vehicle or any vehicle with its hazards lights activated, please make sure you are slowing down and moving over if possible,” Bufford said.
According to Bufford, ISP reported 15 Scott’s Law crashes in 2020. In 2021, she said that number increased to 22.
Another thing to note on the road: work zones.
The Rebuild Illinois program means there are plenty of orange cones on the interstates and highways. Bufford said it’s imperative to drive at the reduced speed limits, even if there are no workers on site.
“There’s a reason why it’s a slower speed,” she said.
In the sky
Several factors are affecting air travel this holiday season, according to Peoria International Airport (PIA) Director of Airports, Gene Olson. He said airlines are facing staffing shortages.
“There have been a few cancellations because of that, normally related to crew availability,” Olsen said.
He advised passengers to monitor their flight reservations regularly to make sure nothing is changed or canceled. He said it is a good idea to sign up for text and email notifications from the airlines.
PIA, however, is faring well despite the pandemic. Olsen said they saw 44,000 total passengers in November, which is less than their five-year average, but certainly better than last year.
“So we’re 16% below normal but we’re about 80% above last November,” he said. “If you go look in our parking lot, you can see it’s a lot more full than it used to be, especially compared to last year.”
Of course, the omicron variant of COVID-19 is a concern for many.
“I would not be surprised if people’s reaction to the Omicron variant is they pull back a little bit on travel,” Olsen said.
But, he said there are currently no extra mitigations at PIA. He also said airplanes are a very safe way to travel and said there is constantly fresh, filtered air in the aircraft.
“Your risk of being in a car crash is a lot higher than your risk of catching COVID in an airplane,” he said.
Olsen also offered some practical tips to passengers. He said not to wrap gifts before transporting them, in case TSA unwraps them. He said to bring the packaging and gifts separate, and wrap once you get to the destination.
Olsen stressed the importance of locking the car and hiding your valuables in the airport parking lot. He said there has been an uptick in stolen cars and thefts from cars in the area, even at the airport. Olsen said they have stepped up law enforcement and camera surveillance in the parking lots, but he still wants passengers to be careful.
“When you come back and your car’s not in the parking lot, that’s not what you want to come home to,” he said.
But overall, Olsen is expecting a successful holiday weekend. Airport staff celebrated the new flight to Fort Lauderdale, which started Dec. 15.
He said he expects everyone to flood back from their travels after New Years.
A bittersweet goodbye
Harlo Schneekloth was waiting at the airport Thursday, getting ready to fly to Nashville, then drive to his hometown, Madison, Alabama. He was visiting Bev Beecher before Christmas, and said he’s going home to be with his family for the holiday.
“I have three girls. The three girls and their families are coming to my house, and we all bring food and spend the day together,” Beecher said.
Neither Schneekloth nor Beecher traveled last year for the holidays, but both said it is nice to be able to visit one another and their loved ones.
“Bev has been to Madison a few times too, so we just kind of go back and forth,” Schneekloth said.
Although they are separating to spend Christmas with their children, they said they will plan their next visit for March.