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Long holiday weekends have always been notorious for high traffic fatalities, with Labor Day leading the way thanks to the enormous number of drivers pushing themselves to drive through the night to get home. About twenty-five years ago, a whole bunch of different groups across the nation came to the same conclusion – one of the best ways to reduce the traffic fatality numbers on holiday weekends was to serve coffee to drivers along major transportation routes.
It makes sense on a number of fronts. One of the major reasons for traffic accidents on those weekends is drivers ennui – the lack of attention and sleepiness brought on by long hours of driving without a break. By setting up free coffee stops at rest stops along roads like I-95, local community service groups and state police provided incentive for drivers to pull off the road, get out of their cars, stretch their legs and return to driving refreshed and more alert.
It’s a ritual all over the country, and a perennial community service activity for many local women’s groups and others. In Waterbury, Connecticut, that service has been provided for the last twenty-five years by local Boy Scout troops. This year, the Boy Scouts won’t be handing out free coffee and donuts (provided by local Dunkin Donuts shops) at weigh stations along the side of the highway, and locals are up in arms about it.
This year, the Department of Transportation has told the Scouts that they can not give out coffee and donuts at night because of unspecified ‘safety concerns’. This despite the fact that there has not been a single injury reported in connection with the annual four-day event in its twenty-five years.
In order to carry out their usual coffee giveaway this year, the Department of Transportation is requiring that the Scouts break down their equipment – all the signage, tables, coffee urns and other equipment – by 9 pm each night and set up again no earlier than 6 am each morning. The Scouts have attempted to change the directive, but the DOT stands firm. In the end, the organization said that they can’t operate the coffee program under those circumstances, and have called it off.
According to the DOT, the increased traffic on I-95 over the holiday weekend makes the Scouts’ activity dangerous, and they are additionally concerned about ‘untoward activity’ that happens from time to time at the highway rest stops. The DOT has been unmoved by offers from local officials to have local police drop in on the coffee stops throughout the nights, and maintains that they have no issue with daytime operation, only the dangers of operating through the night.
Has the world really become so dangerous that we can’t give away free coffee to help drivers stay awake? Let’s hope not. Scouts and legislators are working hard and trying to reverse the DOT decision, but the DOT has already ignored Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell’s request that they work with the Boy Scouts to work things through and continue the long-standing tradition.