The Labor Day travel period got a running start Friday in Hall County as a car fire on Interstate 985 backed up traffic near Exit 16 and an early evening one-vehicle wreck critically injured a woman in her 30s.
Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said the woman was airlifted after the wreck on Clermont Highway. No one was injured in the car fire, but one lane of the interstate was temporarily shut down.
Another incident at Waffle House didn't affect traffic but closed the 24-hour restaurant on Shallowford Road.
"I don't know exactly what happened. Someone was pulling in to eat at the Waffle House. As they were parking, they accelerated and hit the building," Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said. "It pushed the front wall in and broke some windows."
Canada said there were only minor injuries and the restaurant will be closed until repairs can be made.
The holiday weekend is typically a high traffic period as motorists head out of town or to local events.
The number of auto travelers is projected to increase slightly this year with 27.3 million drivers compared to the 27.2 who drove last year, according to AAA Auto Club South. Air travel on the other hand is expected to decrease 1.9 percent compared to the 2010 holiday, with 2.4 million travelers versus the 2.5 million who flew last year.
"The decrease in expected travelers is a result of a mixed economic outlook and consumer uncertainty regarding the overall economy," said Brent Hubele, AAA Travel vice president. "However, the overall decrease in holiday travelers is minimal compared to last year and could even increase if gas prices continue to fall resulting in more consumers making last minute travel plans."
About seven out of 10 auto travelers said gas prices will not impact their travel plans. The current national average of regular retail gasoline is $3.57, second highest to the $3.67 paid during Labor Day in 2008. The cost for regular in Georgia was $3.54 in the past week.
"Throughout the last six months, consumers have adapted and modified their behavior to compensate for elevated gas prices," said Jessica Brady, spokesperson, AAA Auto Club South. "This is one of the reasons we expect auto travel to remain a stable means of travel this holiday weekend."
With increased traffic likely comes increased wrecks. Traffic crashes in the state during the 2010 Labor Day period claimed the lives of 14 people, according to crash statistics from the Crash Reporting Unit at the state Department of Transportation. During the 78-hour holiday period, there were 2,580 traffic crashes and 1,042 injuries.
Col. Mark McDonough, Georgia Department of Public Safety commissioner, said Georgia State Patrol troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers will be on patrol, watching for impaired drivers, speeders, people not wearing seat belts and people who do not properly restrain children.
"Alcohol, speed and occupant protection violations are the primary contributing factors in fatal traffic crashes in our state," McDonough said.
Operation Zero Tolerance, the nation's DUI enforcement program, will be in effect with road checks and concentrated patrols on secondary roads to intercept impaired drivers.
For residents in Hall County, BPI-Safe Rides offers driver pickup services 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday.
The organization will focus its services on marinas.
"Representatives of Hall County law enforcement asked us to do this, because there were more than 30 (Boating Under the Influence charges) this past July Fourth," said Vivienne Speer, executive director of Bill's Place Inc., the local nonprofit that operates BPI-Safe Rides. "So, with Labor Day being the last hurrah for many boating enthusiasts, we are letting marina operators know about our service to keep people who've had a few drinks on the water safe when it's time to go home."
BPI-Safe Rides will pick up the impaired driver and have another driver drive that person's vehicle home. Speer encouraged residents to make their own arrangements if they plan to drink alcohol.
Drivers can call 770-533-1103 for the free, confidential service.