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Traffic deaths plunge as travel-heavy Memorial Day weekend gets underway

Traffic deaths in Michigan are down 25 percent from the same period a year ago, which is attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — While coronavirus restrictions are expected to reduce traffic volumes in Michigan for Memorial Day weekend, state leaders are hopeful less traffic also means a continued drop in road deaths.

That has already been the case this year. 

“Crashes and deaths are down with more people staying at home,’’ said Jon Ross, who works with the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

For the first four months of the year, there has been 194 traffic deaths statewide; a 24 percent drop from the same period in 2019.

“We do have fewer fatalities on the road in Michigan,’’ Ross said. “Obviously, people are staying home.’’

But will that extend throughout the three-day Memorial Day weekend? Ross says it is anyone’s guess.

“People have been at home, they might be anxious to travel a little bit,’’ he said. 

That is especially true now that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is allowing bars and restaurants in northern Michigan to reopen under stringent guidelines.

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer in Michigan. Legions of downstate residents are eager to head north to vacation destinations and cottages, said Adrienne Woodland, spokeswoman for AAA-The Auto Club Group.

“Parts of our state are reopening,’’ Woodland said. “That coupled with lower gas prices may be an enticement for individuals to travel for the Memorial Day weekend.’’

For the first time in 20 years, AAA Michigan did not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, saying the accuracy of economic data has been undermined by Covid-19.

 Even without the pandemic, replicating 2019 numbers will be difficult.

An estimated 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day weekend in 2019, the second highest travel volume since AAA began tracking numbers in 2000.

“With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low,’’ Woodland said.

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