Cabin fever seems nearly as much a pandemic as the coronavirus, and Memorial Day weekend could be an unofficial first day of summer for the record books as low gas prices aren't predicted to drive more travel.
AAA for the first time in 20 years won't issue a travel forecast for Memorial Day 2020 "due to COVID-19 impacts on the underlying economic data used to create the forecast," the nonprofit travel organization states in a holiday weekend notice on gas prices, which are the "cheapest in nearly two decades."
"Despite inexpensive gas prices, AAA anticipates this year's holiday will likely set a record low for travel volume," AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said.
Still, law enforcement officials on the pavement and on the water in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama want everyone to be on their best behavior when it comes to safety, sobriety and safe speeds, on top of ongoing recommendations regarding the coronavirus.
WRCB-TV Channel 3's weather forecast on Wednesday called for a warm Memorial Day weekend with partly sunny skies and a moderate chance of rain increasing to 50% by Monday.
In the Chattanooga area, many people will head for the nearest body of water for summer fun, so that means they will be on the road and on the water over the holiday weekend. The Memorial Day holiday period begins at noon Friday and continues into early Tuesday.
ON THE ROAD
The Tennessee Highway Patrol, Georgia State Patrol and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency State Troopers will be out in force despite lower travel expectations because fatalities may be high despite COVID-19's impact on traffic.
Georgia State Patrol officials didn't have any specifics on enforcement on Wednesday but noted 2019 statistics show troopers during last year's Memorial Day weekend investigated 430 traffic crashes that resulted in 247 injuries and 13 fatalities.
In Tennessee, fatalities are up because with the lighter traffic people are driving faster and crashes are more severe, Highway Patrol spokesman Bill Miller said Wednesday.
"Our fatality numbers are increasing, and those numbers are increasing among our younger drivers," Miller said. "Right now we're sitting at 373 fatalities" for all ages for the year so far.
Miller said teen fatalities — those involving drivers or passengers 13 to 19 — are up since last year from 41 to 42, pedestrian fatalities are up from 51 to 55 and bicycle deaths are up by three.
"Even with all the isolation and staying apart, it's very disturbing to see our fatalities are 373 people, which is the same as it was last year," Miller said. "We really need to stress to everyone to remember to slow down, do not drink and drive, wear your seat belt at all times, and allow yourself time to safely get where you're going."
Miller said troopers will be looking for drunk drivers, doing checkpoints and saturation patrols to help keep everybody on their toes.
"As we're coming together on the roadways, practice caution," Miller said. "Unfortunately, this year we're looking at 373 people who woke up that morning and didn't realize it was going to be their last day."
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials expect more travelers than recent weeks as beaches on the Gulf Coast loosen COVID-19 restrictions, drawing large crowds that officials say have increased with each successive weekend.
"Memorial Day weekend is a popular time for road trips to the beach, lake or other warm-weather hot spots," agency secretary Hal Taylor said. "With the public's assistance on Alabama roadways and waterways, we all can have fun, as well as get to and from our destinations safely."
HIGHWAY SAFETY TIPS
— Buckle up no matter how short the trip, make sure even back-seat occupants use seat belts or child restraints
— Do not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Select a designated driver in advance or plan to use a ride-share service
— Do not drive while distracted. Distractions are not limited to texting. The list includes passengers, radio, food and other items or activities that take your focus off driving
— Mind your speed. Obey speed limits
— Expect traffic congestion, particularly along popular routes to the recreation areas. Leave early to stay on schedule
Source: Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
ON THE WATER
The 2020 National Safe Boating Week continues until Saturday, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency's Marine Patrol will promote use of life jackets and underline the importance of knowing the rules on the water, which could become crowded over the holiday weekend.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials say boating partners across the United States and Canada are teaming up to promote safe boating practices, including the wearing of life jackets for National Safe Boating Week and throughout the 2020 boating season.
"The single most important action one can take to prevent drowning while boating is to wear a life jacket," said Betsy Woods, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency boating education coordinator. "They are called lifesaving devices because they really can save lives."
Mark McKinnon, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Wednesday that the Peach State's recommendations are the same as its neighbors, though there are fewer large bodies of water on Chattanooga's end of the state.
Officials also urge folks on the water to maintain efforts to avoid spreading the coronavirus by practicing social distancing and leaving at least 6 feet between individuals from different households while visiting rivers, lakes, parks, beaches and other public locations.
At the end of April, Chattanooga region officials warned boaters to stick to coronavirus guidelines while on the water.
Those recommendations include asking boaters to stick to waterways that are close to home and drive straight to local boat ramps and access points, officials said.
When fueling up at fuel docks or gas stations, officials recommend hand washing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer, and to avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unsanitary hands.
Also, don't beach or raft with other boats, and anyone who has been diagnosed with or is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms should not leave home at all, even to participate in outdoor recreation, officials said.
BOATING SAFETY TIPS
BEFORE YOU GO
— Take a boating safety course
— Conduct vessel safety check
— Complete a pre-departure checklist
— Check the weather
— File a float plan
WHAT YOU NEED
— Life jackets
— Throwable flotation aids
— Visual distress signals
— Sound producing devices
— Engine cut-off devices
ON THE BOAT
— Be aware
— Boat sober
— Provide life jackets
— Provide navigation aids
Source: Operation Dry Water, 2018
The transportation departments in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama say most road construction will be idled for the holiday weekend with one exception in Georgia north of Atlanta, where construction-related work will require lane closures near the interchange of Georgia Highway 400 and Interstate 285, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
In Tennessee, some existing lane closures and shifts will remain in place in long-term projects like the Interstate 75/Interstate 24 interchange improvement project in Chattanooga at the Tennessee-Georgia line, according to a statement from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Law enforcement will be watching for anyone violating construction zone speed limits, officials said.
Transportation officials said rest areas and restrooms in all three states will be open with coronavirus precautions in place for social distancing among visitors.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at facebook.com/benbenton1.