Memorial Day travel tips: Buckle up, slow down

It's the first weekend of the summer season, and things are looking good. Gas prices have dropped a bit, the weather will be mostly nice, and state road crews will suspend work on construction projects.

What could possibly get in your way?

"Buckle up, don't drink and drive, and obey the speed limit," said Col. Michael Gilchrist, commander of the N.C. Highway Patrol.

State troopers and local police in North Carolina will launch a "Click It or Ticket" campaign this weekend to enforce the seat belt and child restraint seat laws. And in both Carolinas, police say they will step up efforts to deal with speeders and DWI motorists.

If you mind your manners and follow the rules of the road, the Memorial Day weekend could be a nice start to the summer.

The AAA reports gasoline prices, which rose steadily throughout the spring, have dropped about 7 cents a gallon in the past week. The average price of a gallon of regular gas in North Carolina is $3.73, and it's $3.59 in South Carolina. The Charlotte-area average is $3.78, but the AAA says prices are more variable than in recent weeks.

In other words, you might find some bargains out there.

The weather shouldn't be a problem, either. National Weather Service forecasters say scattered showers and thunderstorms are likely Friday and possible Saturday, mostly in the western half of the Carolinas. But they say Sunday and Monday should be rain-free, and even Saturday looks mostly dry, says the Weather Service's John Tomko.

Department of Transportation officials in both states say they will suspend work on construction projects this weekend.

Air travel is expected to be smooth, as Memorial Day typically is not among the busy holidays.

That leaves the issue of those seat belts and gas pedals.

"We can't overestimate the importance of wearing a seat belt," said Mint Hill police Chief Tim Ledford, who was among several hundred law enforcement officers who gathered at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this week for the launch of the "Click It or Ticket" campaign. "Even in your own neighborhood, you could be involved in an accident."

Ledford said motorists shouldn't think darkness can save them from a seat belt citation.

"We set up in well-lit areas," he said. "We know what to look for."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer John Frison Jr., a member of the motorcycle unit, said it's not difficult for him to spot those violating the law.

"I'll pull up right next to them and look in," he said. "Sometimes I'll see people hurriedly put their belts on."

Speeding is another concern for police.

"I have instructed our troopers to aggressively crack down on motorists who are speeding, driving recklessly, and more importantly, drinking and driving," Gilchrist said.

"We had DWI checkpoints last weekend, and we'll have more," Ledford said.

One sheriff's deputy who attended the program at the speedway earlier this week said motorists shouldn't expect a break with the speed limit.

"Often, we'll let people go a few miles an hour over the limit," said the deputy, asking not to be identified. "I think people automatically assume that."

But, he added, "Just remember ... sometimes we don't."