COVINGTON - Area law enforcement officials are gearing up to keep Thanksgiving travelers safe.
Traditionally the heaviest traffic weekend of the year, authorities say lack of seat belt use is one of the main factors in fatalities. The Governor's Office of Highway Safety is urging drivers to, "Tighten your belt before and after Thanksgiving dinner."
The Click It or Ticket campaign is well under way and will continue through Sunday with high-visibility safety belt checkpoints and concentrated patrol activity, according to a press release from the GOHS.
And don't expect to get off with a warning from the Georgia State Patrol.
"Under Georgia's Primary Safety Belt Law, enforcement officers are authorized to ticket violators by simply observing an unbelted driver or passenger," GOHS Director Bob Dallas said in the release. "During the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period, seat belt violators will be ticketed on the first offense."
Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said additional deputies will be out on the roads throughout the weekend. Sobriety check points will also be set up, he said.
"The best advice I can give to people on the road is to be careful and always drive defensively and watch out for other drivers," the sheriff said.
He pointed out that anyone who has been drinking alcohol should either find a designated driver or make plans to stay where they are for the night.
The Newton County Sheriff's Office is also planning a stringent enforcement weekend. There have been 10 traffic fatalities in Newton County so far this year.
"Our Traffic Unit will be out and will be focusing on seat belts, impaired drivers, speeders, aggressive drivers and reckless drivers," said Lt. Mark Mitchell, spokesman for the NCSO. "We'll be making an effort to slow down vehicles and doing everything we can in Newton County to create a safe avenue of travel for drivers."
According to Dallas, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, five people were killed in Georgia traffic crashes; seven died on Georgia highways the following day; and before the weekend was over, there had been another 14 deaths for a total of 26 deaths on the roadways.
"High holiday fatality and injury predictions are the reason we've asked every law enforcement agency in Georgia to participate in the November Click It or Ticket campaign," Dallas said. "I've said it before: this is not about writing more tickets. It's about saving more lives. And I'll keep saying that until we stop seeing needless deaths on Georgia highways because drivers and passengers won't invest the three seconds it takes to protect them from sudden death or serious injury by buckling up."
The GOHS says that statistically speaking, rural roadways are much less safe than interstates.
"Although only a quarter of the nation's populations lives in rural areas, the number of deadly crashes out on country roads actually accounts for more than half of all traffic fatalities," Dallas said. "... In 2007, 1,252 people died on Georgia's state and county roads, compared with 235 deaths on our interstate highways."
Dallas pointed out that the way rural roads are constructed - usually narrow, two-lane roads with no physical barrier or division to separate oncoming traffic - as well as frequent entering and exiting by vehicles contribute to the high incidence of fatal crashes.
This year, he said, the Click or Ticket It campaign is going to place a special emphasis on rural roadways.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.