PARKERSBURG - As shoppers rush home with their treasures, police are offering tips to get home safe from Christmas shopping excursions.
Drivers must aware in the heavily congested areas near shopping centers, said Sgt. Greg Collins of the Parkersburg Police Department.
"Aggressive driving always causes us problems this time of year, and with the increased number of vehicles on our roadways because of holiday shoppers, it always leads to more accidents," he said. "If motorists would increase their following distance and be a more courteous driver, our accident numbers would certainly decrease. Rear-end collisions are our leading cause of accidents."
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Parking lots at the Grand Central Mall are packed with shoppers, even during the afternoon.
Officers are out in force during the holiday season, Collins said.
"Officers will be looking for usual violations, especially red light violators and speeders," he said. "We will be especially vigilant looking for children who are not restrained and protected properly in vehicles."
Collins said additional officers will be working grant-funded overtime looking for drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"Our goal is to make it through the New Year's holiday without any deaths or serious injuries on our roads," he said. "Please keep your eye out for officers, and remember it is state law to slow down and move over if possible when you come upon an emergency vehicle on the roadside."
Allowing more travel time will improve safety, said Sgt. Scott Hughes of the Vienna Police Department.
"In Vienna, the best thing to remember is you will need more time to go from one place to another," he said. "At this time of year, Grand Central Avenue is more congested and it takes longer than usual."
In the event of an accident, the rules are the same regardless of the time of year, Hughes said.
"The main thing is to call 911, and if the vehicle can be moved you should," he said. "There is no policy in Vienna to move or not."
Those involved in the accident should stay in the vehicle if possible, he said.
"Don't be out of your vehicle walking around," he said. "Stay inside until the police get there," he said.
To keep traffic flowing through an accident area, drivers need to keep their eyes on the road ahead of them and don't stop and look at the wreck, Hughes said.
When driving through the traffic on a multi-lane road like Grand Central Avenue, the best advice is to stay in the middle lane if you are not planning to go to a shopping center, Hughes said.
"The quickest way through is stay in the middle lane, not the curb lanes, north and south," he said. "Drivers in the curb lanes will turn right and that will jam things up."
Higher travel volumes will decrease soon, Hughes said.
"Be patient for the next week; it will be bad," he said. "If you want to avoid Grand Central Avenue, and you are going north or south of Parkersburg and Vienna, you could use Rosemar Road between Emerson Avenue and West Virginia 14 as a bypass."
Being alert on the roads and in parking lots is essential, an AAA safety expert said.
"People know to be concerned about safety on highways and neighborhood streets, but they forget to be on alert in parking lots," said J.J. Miller, AAA safety adviser. "Crashes happen frequently in parking lots and have the potential to be quite dangerous, particularly for pedestrians."
A few steps can help motorists navigate the parking lot and make better, safer decisions to protect their cars and themselves, such as looking for parking spots near the side entrances of the mall and parking where the car doesn't have to back out, Miller said.
"Drivers should always be aware of their surroundings," said Miller. "The holidays are a busy time for everyone, but remember when you're behind the wheel, your focus should be on driving - whether you're on the highway or in the parking lot."
Unfortunately, there are times Christmas treasures do not make it home when a car is robbed. Advice also is offered to victims of a break-in.
"If someone breaks into your car at the mall parking lot, locate mall security and report it to them and call 911," Miller said. "Mall security will do a report and definitely call 911 so police will come."
To avoid break-ins, the best place to put items is in the trunk, Miller said.
"Any packages should be in the trunk, don't leave them out where they can be seen," he said. "Chances are someone will not break in if they can't see something; they usually won't waste their time where they can't see something."
It is important to be aware of surroundings, Collins said.
"Don't be so focused on shopping that you fail to pay attention to people around you," Collins said. "Carry a minimal amount of cash and refrain from wearing flashy, expensive jewelry. People should quickly report suspicious persons or activity to your local law enforcement agency."