PITTSFIELD — Motorists are being urged to use good judgment and caution over this Memorial Day weekend, which the National Safety Council says may be the deadliest since 2009.
The council estimates 439 people may be killed and another 50,000 seriously injured in auto crashes over the three-day weekend.
"As Americans gear up for the most carefree months of the year, we cannot take our safety for granted," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, CEO and president of the council. "Driving is one of the riskiest things we do every day. Engaging our defensive driving skills and staying alert can mean the difference between attending cookouts and family parties or spending the evening at the emergency room or worse."
In 2009, approximately 473 people were killed nationwide over the holiday — four of those in Massachusetts, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That number dropped to 375 in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available. Six of those fatalities were in Massachusetts.
Thirty-five people in the state lost their lives in Memorial Day weekend traffic accidents between 2009 and 2014, while 2,419 people were killed nationwide in the same manner during the same period.
The council said summer as a whole is a dangerous time on the roads, with 9,570 people being killed in auto accidents nationwide between May 24 and Aug. 31, 2014.
Rising numbers of auto fatalities is a continuing trend, the council said, noting traffic deaths increased 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, making that the largest year-to-year percentage increase in 50 years.
That increase is likely due in part to factors like the improving economy, lower gas prices and lower unemployment rates, which may mean more people getting behind the wheel and taking more and longer trips, the council said.
Speeding and alcohol use — both potential factors in crashes — increase during the summer as well.
The council provided some advice for safer driving over the holiday weekend and beyond:
•Make sure everyone in the vehicle is wearing their seat belt. The council estimates up to 104 lives could be saved over the weekend if belts were worn.
•Designate a sober driver or make other transportation arrangements.
•Get plenty of sleep and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue on long road trips.
•Avoid using cellphones — even hands-free — while driving.
•Parents should remain engaged with their teens' driving habits. A council survey showed many parents are more inclined to loosen household driving rules during the summer.
The council also recommends people learn about their particular vehicle's safety features and how to use them. Those with questions about their vehicle's features can visit www.mycardoeswhat.org for more information.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.