Route 30 in Greensburg

Motorists travel on Route 30 in Greensburg on Wednesday.

Pennsylvania officials are urging motorists to celebrate and travel responsibly throughout the Labor Day weekend.

PennDOT and the Pennsylvania State Police issued a joint press release this week, which says the departments are working with other agencies to participate in the national impaired driving enforcement and education initiative through Monday.

“Crashes involving DUI are entirely preventable,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. “We are asking motorists to keep themselves, their passengers and other motorists safe by designating a sober driver and not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

During the 2018 Labor Day holiday, state police made 660 DUI arrests and investigated 80 alcohol-related crashes.

According to PennDOT data, there were 33 fatalities statewide over the holiday weekend in 2018, 13 related to alcohol and seven connected to drugs.

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, PennDOT will share short video messages on its social media accounts about the consequences of driving impaired, with reminders and real-life examples from PennDOT officials, coroners, law enforcement officers, a trauma nurse and those who have been arrested for DUI.

Throughout the holiday weekend, state police and local law enforcement will conduct checkpoints and roving patrols, an effort that is funded through PennDOT’s statewide annual distribution of more than $4.7 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for impaired driving enforcement.

“We can each do our part to keep the roads safe this holiday weekend by making sure to drive sober, buckle up, and minimize distractions while behind the wheel,” said Col. Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “Troopers will be out watching for aggressive and impaired drivers, so please celebrate responsibly.”

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has reported that summer travel on the toll road has increased 1.5% over last summer and is preparing for an expected 3.6 million travelers over Labor Day weekend.

“Family travel will be winding down as our kids head back to school and we settle into our fall routines,” said Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. “However, many are taking one last trip before saying goodbye to summer. Planning ahead and avoiding distracted or drowsy driving can make all the difference as we will see an upsurge in traffic on the Turnpike over the next few days.”

The Turnpike is predicting Friday as the most heavily traveled day with an estimated 760,000 vehicles on the roadway, followed by Thursday, when 700,000 are anticipated. Friday afternoon will be peak travel time, according to Turnpike officials.

To accommodate heavier traffic, the Turnpike will suspend maintenance work and have all available lanes open in each direction beginning at 3 p.m. Thursday through 11 p.m. Sept. 2.

Experts with the American Automobile Association say the national gas price average is on track to be the cheapest Labor Day price in three years.

Wednesday’s national gas price average was $2.58, compared to the 2018 average of $2.83 and $2.63 in 2017.

“For Americans who bookend summer with road trips, they will find gas prices this coming weekend that are cheaper than this past Memorial Day and last year’s Labor Day holiday,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “At the start of the week, two-thirds of all states have gas price averages that are nearly a quarter cheaper than last year.”

AAA predicts that some states could see gas prices increase by a few pennies ahead of the holiday weekend, which isn’t unusual, but any jumps will be short-term.

According to AAA, crude oil prices took a recent downward turn as a result of continued trade tension between the U.S. and China, with Reuters reporting a 2-percent drop in oil prices last week after China unveiled tariffs in retaliation against $75 billion worth of U.S. goods.

“Market watchers will keep a close eye on U.S.-China trade talks and the impact increasing tariff costs could have on global crude oil demand,” AAA’s website says. “If the trade tension between the countries continues, crude prices will likely decline further.”

AAA forecasts crude prices to range between $50 and $60 per barrel this fall, which is a considerable drop from last fall when prices ranged between $60 and $75.

A drop in domestic crude inventories is what AAA attributes to the projected price decrease, but hurricane season has the potential to send gas prices back up.

In September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that 2019’s Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal, with 10 to 17 named storms and five to nine hurricanes.

“The mere threat of a hurricane making landfall can shutter domestic crude production, leading to spikes in crude and gasoline prices,” AAA says. “In 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused the national gas price average to jump 30-cents in a matter of days.”

​Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.

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