By John Shumway

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Most three-day holiday weekends we would not dream of cramming in the travel we do for Thanksgiving. Add to that the celebrating, and it’s a recipe for trouble on the road.

Cathy Tress, of the Pennsylvania DUI Association, says the Thanksgiving holiday has become one of the most lethal. She says last year, “with 470 impaired driver crashes in 2016, 15 people lost their lives in the time before, during and after Thanksgiving.”

PennDOT’s Jay Ofsanik says when you extend that through the end of the year, “last year, in 2016, 79 people died statewide during the Operation Safe Holiday time period.”

So to bring those numbers down, the police – funded by federal dollars to pay for overtime – will be out in force going after those not using seat belts and drivers who are impaired.

“In my District 12 area, 56 percent of the fatalities were unbelted,” Ofsanik says.

Murrysville Police Chief Thomas Seefeld says, “We have officers that are going to be out there looking for unbelted and impaired drivers. They’re going to do their job and have a heavy presence over the holiday.”

For Murrysville, it means when the extra patrols hit the streets, the number of officers on duty will be doubled.

A total of 250 police departments across Pennsylvania are involved in Operation Safe Holiday. Most of the local departments will do roving patrols looking for impaired drivers.

“Pennsylvania State Police will be conducting stationary checkpoints throughout the Commonwealth at different locations,” Tress says.

The DUI focus will begin on one of the worst nights for drinking and driving, Thanksgiving Eve. Tress says that’s the night college students arrive home, many for the first time since leaving for college in August.

She says, “That’s probably the one night they get to be with their friends before they are with their family for the weekend.”

As a result, the partying is epic.

The police are imploring people to plan ahead and choose a designated driver before the partying gets started.

Chief Seefeld says planning ahead is critical “because when you’re in that condition and you’re drinking too much, we know you’re not going to make those logical decisions.”

The seatbelt enforcement is already underway, the DUI enforcement starts on Wednesday.

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