CHP Christmas enforcement begins for California drivers

Fewer Californians are expected to travel for Christmas this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, yet data show residents are still making trips to the store or work even after regional stay-at-home orders were issued throughout the state earlier this month.

The California Highway Patrol this week reminded drivers to stay sober, slow down, avoid distractions and buckle up no matter where they’re headed. The CHP’s Maximum Enforcement Period began Thursday evening as drivers hit the road for the holiday weekend.

Through Sunday night, all available officers will be on the road looking for speeders and intoxicated drivers, the CHP said. The officers also will be on the lookout for drivers who may need their help.

“Although traffic may be lighter this holiday season, it is not an invitation to speed,” CHP officials said in a news release. “The rules of the road still apply, and motorists should avoid driving tired, impaired or distracted.”

Even though fewer Californians traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend last month, the CHP reported 868 arrests throughout the state and 50 roadway deaths in a span of 102 hours of enforcement. The same holiday weekend last year had 867 arrests and 42 deaths.

During last year’s 30 hours of Christmas enforcement, 271 people were arrested and 10 people died, according to the CHP. In 2018, 1,166 people were arrested and 16 people died over 102-hour Christmas enforcement period.

AAA Northern California expects at least 34 million fewer travelers throughout the state compared to last year’s holiday season, but as many as 84.5 million people may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3. That’s a 29% decline from last year, according to a AAA news release.

“With COVID‑19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will prompt some would-be travelers to not follow through with upcoming travel plans,” AAA spokesman Sergio Avila said in the news release.

AAA expected up to 50 million travelers in California this past Thanksgiving, which would have been a 10% decline from last year. The final travel numbers are not yet available, but AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15 to 20 percent.

Residents who decide to travel will do it in a vehicle; road trips will account for 96% of holiday travel, according to AAA. That means 81 million travelers will make road trips, which is at least 25% decline from last year. For travelers this holiday season, AAA has a COVID-19 restrictions map of United States available online.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in early December ordered a shutdown across most of the state and asked residents stay home as much as possible. But surging COVID-19 infections and the dramatic decline available intensive care space at hospitals did not greatly reduced visits to stores and workplaces in California, according to a Sacramento Bee review of mobility trend data collected by Google from cell phones.

Even as residents are advised to stay close to home and not travel significant distances, CHP officials wanted to remind drivers that driving safely rules and tips are as critical as ever this year.

“The CHP wants to ensure your safety throughout this unprecedented year,” CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said in the CHP news release. “We are hopeful that the public will do their part and remember to make safety a priority.”

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Rosalio Ahumada writes breaking news stories related to crime and public safety for The Sacramento Bee. He speaks Spanish fluently and has worked as a news reporter in the Central Valley since 2004.

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