COVINGTON - Patience and planning are the principles law enforcement officials want motorists to keep at the forefront of their Thanksgiving travel plans as Americans take to the highways later this week.
The Thanksgiving travel period figures to be one of the most dangerous times of the year for Georgia motorists.
The Georgia Department of Transportation and Georgia State Patrol estimate there will be 3,285 traffic accidents during a 102-hour holiday travel period, which will result in 1,299 injuries and 18 deaths.
Those projections are lower than last year's tally during a similar period, which saw 3,510 accidents reported throughout the state, resulting in 1,463 injuries and 19 deaths.
Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said he expects traffic to be heavy over the holiday and recommends that motorists plan their trips in advance to ensure a safe journey.
"Careful planning includes allowing plenty of time to reach your destination and anticipating travel delays," he said in a prepared statement. "Be sure to include rest breaks on extended trips to avoid becoming drowsy behind the wheel."
Hitchens also said motorists could expect high visibility of law enforcement on the roadways, as well as concentrated patrols and road checks.
"Every available trooper and officer will be on patrol Wednesday and Sunday, the heaviest travel days of the holiday period," Hitchens said. "Among the violations they will be watching for are impaired drivers, speeders, people who are not wearing seat belts or buckling up children and drivers who tailgate other motorists."
According to AAA Auto Club South, more than 1 million drivers are expected to travel Georgia highways this Thanksgiving, and nationwide it is predicted that more than 38 million Americans will make a trip of 50 miles or more from their homes.
Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said his holiday task force would be hitting the streets Wednesday evening through Sunday, conducting concentrated patrols, road checks and sobriety check points.
"Anticipate and know that there's going to be a large number of people on the roads and watch out for the other driver," he advised motorists.
Though he does not anticipate any road checks, Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols said residents can expect to see traffic units on patrol.
"Thanksgiving is not one of our high-problem times, but we will be working traffic," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot of traffic on the road ... so, leave a little bit early, be courteous and be cautious."
The Governor's Office of Highway Safety is once again starting its Click It or Ticket campaign, which will run though the holiday travel period and focus on drivers and passengers who choose not to wear their safety belts.
According to a press release issued by the GOHS, more than half of all traffic crash victims killed nationwide during last year's Thanksgiving holiday weekend were not wearing their seat belts.
"We truly agonize over those Georgia families that could have been spared the heartbreak of making funeral preparations while other families were making holiday travel arrangements to be with their loved ones," said GOHS Director Bob Dallas in a prepared statement. "It's just so clear that safety belts save lives."
Joel Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org