According to your almanac, summer does not begin until the Summer Solstice – June 20th or 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, give or take a few hours. (This varies from year to year because the Earth’s rotation around the Sun is not perfectly synced with our terrestrial concept of 24-hour days – go figure!)  So your calendar may not acknowledge the start of summer for another month or so; nonetheless, the broader public generally recognizes that the beginning of the summertime patterns of warm clothing, hot weather, and outdoor activities begin with the Memorial Day Weekend. Unfortunately, this same milestone often marks the beginning of heightened motor vehicle crashes causing injuries and even deaths, and the recent Memorial Day Weekend just behind us was no exception.
Memorial Day is a national holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in the month of May. This regular observance is a function of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, federal legislation that placed a number of federal holidays on a certain day of the week rather than on a calendar day. (Rather than observing this holiday on May 30th, which may fall on any day during the week, that holiday can be observed on a fixed Monday to ensure that workers annually enjoy a three-day holiday.) The holiday began in the years after the Civil War as Decoration Day, a time to honor and remember the fallen soldiers of the nation’s bloody internal conflict.  Today, Memorial Day remains a time to reflect on and remember the tens of thousands of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
Reverent though these origins may be, many people channel their thanks and remembrance into a weekend of travel and fun. The trouble for many families is the roadway hazards that await them on the journey. Memorial Day Weekend is the deadliest weekend for car travel, comparing the fatalities annually over this stretch to those suffered in a typical weekend. Over a four-year period, Memorial Day Weekend saw an average of nearly 315 fatalities per year. The other peak holidays – Independence Day in July and Labor Day, in September – experienced similar but not-quite-as-high levels of driving deaths over the same period.  Many factors are likely to blame. As the first summertime holiday, Memorial Day weekend tends to attract the weekend warriors who have been itching for a getaway for months. The holiday also involves a significant about of social drinking, which impairs drivers’ judgment and slows their reaction times. And the advantage of the regular Monday observance also plays a role. Many people travel long distances around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, but the travel tends to be spread out over the days before and after those observances rather than clustered densely around the Friday before and the Monday of Memorial Day. Three cheers for three-day weekends? Maybe not.
From north to south, Nevadans demonstrated these deadly trends with tragically accurate detail. By the afternoon of Memorial Day (the actual Monday day of observance), Elko County law enforcement had already responded to four vehicle crashes. The first accident occurred before 6 a.m. on U.S. 93 south of the town of Jackpot, and fortunately no injuries were reported. Less than two hours later, a crash in the westbound lanes of I-80 outside of Oasis was reported, followed by a crash involving two semis (i.e., tractor trailers or eighteen-wheelers) that also collided in the westbound lanes of I-80, this time outside of Wells. The fourth crash was reported just before 1 p.m. southeast of the city of Elko at the intersection of the Jiggs and Lamoille highways.  Despite this spate of crashes, it does not appear at this time that any fatalities were reported.
Drivers in the southern part of the state did not fare so well. An elderly Nevada man was killed just east of the California-Nevada border near the small Arizona town of Kingman. Details are still emerging about the crash, which occurred on the Friday of the recent Memorial Day Weekend, but it has been determined that the elderly man was driving on the wrong side of Highway 40. He collided head-on with another vehicle, and his death was one of five recorded due to the tragic accident. Arizona authorities have been battling a rash of wrong-way accidents and have begun installing thermal cameras to detect errant vehicles and attempt to prevent the crashes.  And the community of Cimarron High School grieved anew last week as it celebrated the life of an 18-year-old senior who was killed when his motorcycle was struck by another 18-year-old student who was driving a car. 
As the summer travel season unfolds, do your utmost to protect yourself from driving hazards. You cannot control the actions of other drivers, but you can practice defensive driving by remaining alert, maintaining adequate distance between your vehicle and those ahead, and signaling and following all laws including speed limits. If another driver is following you too closely (i.e., “tailgating” you), change lanes if possible. If you cannot do so safely, lower your speed to increase the distance between your car and the one ahead. This is not to upset or provoke the driver behind you; rather, it is to ensure that you have even more space to apply your brakes gradually, since the driver behind you is not driving with caution and may rear-end you if you brake normally. There are many factors to consider when behind the wheel. If tragedy strikes, you can control yet another factor: choosing an experienced personal injury lawyer who can walk you through the process of seeking relief.
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