Sixty-two people were killed on California's streets and highways over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, and state officials pointed to the totals Monday to support their contention that the period is the most dangerous time of the year to travel by car.
Two of the worst accidents occurred in the San Joaquin Valley.
The California Highway Patrol reported that a family of three died Thursday in Kern County when a speeding car hurdled a freeway center divider and crashed into the family's auto. In the second accident, three children drowned Friday evening when the car in which they were riding plunged into the California Aqueduct near Los Banos in Merced County, CHP investigators said.
In Riverside County, California Highway Patrolman Mark Taylor, 28, was killed Thursday while writing a citation beside Interstate 10 near Cathedral City. Investigating officers said Taylor, married and the father of one, was struck by a speeding car that slammed into the vehicle he had stopped.
"The four days at Thanksgiving are when we get the most traffic. . . . More people are traveling and motorists risk more exposure to accidents," said CHP Southern California Division spokesman Sgt. Mark Lunn.
This year's toll--compiled between 6 p.m. Wednesday and midnight Sunday--compares to 60 fatalities last year at Thanksgiving. The highest four-day death count occurred in 1970, when 88 people were killed, said Nicholas Jones, a California Department of Transportation traffic engineer.
Over the last 10 years the Thanksgiving holiday toll has averaged 58 fatalities. The average number of traffic fatalities in the state is 12 per day.
"It (higher traffic risk) has a lot to do with the fact that people are getting out of town, they're going to Grandma's house," Jones said. "The traffic leaving town almost doubles at Thanksgiving."
While the death toll on this holiday has remained about the same for a decade, the total number of cars and drivers in California has increased dramatically and the number of miles driven climbed to 221.7 billion last year, up 6% over the previous year, CHP officials reported.
"That's an indication that all of our safety-related efforts are having an impact. . . . The drunk-driving enforcement, the seat-belt laws are working," said CHP spokesman Steve Kohler.
Even so, the 62 deaths in California topped the nation this Thanksgiving, according to federal reports. There were 494 total holiday fatalities in the nation. Florida was second with 34 deaths over the long weekend.