CONYERS - Between the long weekend in celebration of Memorial Day and high zschool graduations, the roads and waterways in Rockdale and Newton counties are likely to be very crowded.
Monday marked the beginning of Georgia's annual Click It Or Ticket safety belt campaign, which will continue through June 1. Law enforcement agencies across the state will schedule various road checks and will step up enforcement of safety belt laws throughout this two-week period.
"As state troopers prepare for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, we recognize the large amount of schools' graduations scheduled, as well as it being the kick-off of the summer travel season," said Georgia State Patrol spokesman Larry Schnall. "We anticipate our roadways will be congested, so even with high gas prices, we are planning on being out and highly visible, from rolling patrols, road checks and sobriety checkpoints."
Schnall said the GSP is partnering with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, local sheriffs' departments and police departments in the Click It Or Ticket campaign, which officially begins Friday at 6 p.m. and ends Monday at midnight.
In Rockdale County, extra patrols will be on the road and random road blocks will be set up in an effort to crack down on drunk drivers, said Sheriff Jeff Wigington.
Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols said holiday weekends generally result in a higher number of traffic infractions, particularly those that are drug- or alcohol-related, so extra patrols will be deployed around the county over the three-day weekend. He said that high school graduations over the weekend will only compound the call volume.
Rockdale County High School and Heritage High School graduations will take place Friday night. Seniors from Salem High School in Conyers, as well as those in Newton County's three high schools - Newton High School, Eastside High School and Alcovy High School - will graduate Saturday beginning at 8:30 a.m.
With roadways expected to be packed, authorities stressed the need for defensive driving.
"When traffic is congested, which it will be this weekend, just maintain control, be patient, be courteous," Nichols said. "Defensive driving is especially important at a time like this."
Schnall said nice weather also will bring out an increased number of motorcyclists, and advised that other drivers stay alert.
The public is encouraged to contact the GSP at *GSP (*477) with concerns about reckless drivers, he said.
In Newton County, the NCSO will have added presence on Lake Jackson, as well.
This will be the third year the sheriff's office will conduct summer patrols on Lake Jackson. NCSO Capt. Marty Roberts said they expect more people on the water this year than usual because many will decide to stay closer home than to pay high gas prices.
"People are just not wanting to drive farther away this year, and the big lakes like Lake Lanier are still recovering from the drought while we're at full pool here," Roberts said.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division, there is a minimum age requirement to operate a boat or personal watercraft. Those boaters under the age of 16 can satisfy the minimum age requirements by either taking a boating safety course or operating a boat under the supervision of an adult.
Furthermore, boating under the influence of alcohol is prohibited. Conservation rangers made 189 boating under the influence arrests in Georgia in 2007 and responded to 10 alcohol-related boating incidents, according to a press release from the DNR.
A person over the age of 21 who has a blood alcohol content of .10 or higher is presumed to be less safe and may be charged with boating under the influence, said Lt. Col. Homer Bryson, assistant chief of law enforcement.
Safety is the primary work of the Newton County patrols on Lake Jackson. Roberts said they most frequently stop people for excessive speed or boaters not wearing life preservers or noise issues.
"Think safety and have a good time," he said. "And we're not there just to enforce the law. We have hauled folks back to the docks after they run out of gas, so we're there to help out, if needed."
Aimee Jones can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Georgia's lakes and waterways are expected to be crowded this Memorial Day weekend. The following are some safety tips for boating and water safety from the state Department of Natural Resources:
· Take a boating safety course and/or a swimming course.
· Never swim alone. If you are a marginal swimmer, wear a flotation device.
· Don't mix alcohol or drugs with boating or swimming.
· Never let children swim or boat unsupervised. Children under the age of 10 must wear a life jacket while on a moving boat.
· Keep life jackets accessible. Never make someone feel uncomfortable if they choose to wear a life jacket.
· Don't swim when you are too tired, too cold or too far from safety.
· Learn and obey the "rules of the road" for boating.
· Always be aware of the possibility of hidden dangers, such as underwater obstacles, changing currents and underwater drop-offs.
· Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
· Don't panic if you find yourself in a stressful situation. If in non-flowing water, float or "dog paddle" to safety. If in flowing water, float with the current, not against it.