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Experts: As travel ramps up, 4th of July weekend could be deadly time for drivers

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As highway traffic returns to its pre-pandemic levels, experts are warning drivers of a particularly dangerous Fourth of July weekend on the roads.

"We will have a lot more people traveling this year, and we will have a lot more people that are able to get together," said UW Health Chief Quality Officer Jeff Pothof. "And that just creates the pot that these accidents happen in that will result in likely more traumas."

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the Fourth of July is the most dangerous day to be on the road, usually due to impaired drivers.

In Wisconsin, health experts say impaired driving is the number one reason people are sent to the ER on the Fourth of July.

"That is by far, the number one, two and three reason that we see people in our trauma bays over the holiday week," Pothof said.

Highway officials refer to the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day as the "100 Deadliest Days of Summer," when traffic fatalities reach their peak.

In 2019, 154 Wisconsinites died during the "100 deadliest days." In 2020, that number increased to 187, and experts warn that this year could be even higher.

Traffic deaths rose last year and experts say that number is likely to rise again this year with increased traffic on the roads.

Travel experts predict that nearly 50 million people could travel this holiday weekend.

In Madison, police officers are on high alert for impaired driving and will be increasing their patrols.

"We're going to be trying to address OWIs, speed, reckless driving, running red lights — the traffic violations that really affect safety for our community," said police officer Mark Malloy. "Our goal is for everybody to be able to go out and have a fun time and for everybody to be able to go home safely at the end of it."

Health experts say the best way you can stay safe if you're traveling this weekend is to drive slow, put the phone down and stay sober.

"If you're going to drink alcoholic beverages, you have to do so in moderation," Pothof said. "If you're not going to do it in moderation you have to get a designated driver."

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