Police begin monthlong DUI crackdown

CONYERS -- Local law enforcement agencies are partnering with the Georgia State Patrol in a concentrated enforcement effort targeting impaired drivers on Georgia roads.

December is "Drunk and Drugged Driver Awareness Month" and the start of the holiday travel season will officially get under way beginning with National Lights On for Life Day on Friday. On that day, GSP troopers will patrol with their headlights on to call attention to the dangers impaired drivers pose on the roadways. Leading into the Christmas and New Year's Day periods, GSP troopers and officers with the Motor Carrier Compliance Division will concentrate on intercepting impaired drivers on the roads before they can cause a traffic crash.

"Impaired driving is not confined to summer nights, but rather a danger around the clock, 365 days a year," said Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. "Troopers and MCCD officers are keeping a close watch for suspected impaired drivers on every patrol."

Troopers arrested 1,116 people on charges of driving under the influence between Dec. 1, 2008, and Jan. 4, 2009.

Additionally, the GSP announced Tuesday that it had been awarded a traffic safety grant of $1.8 million from the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety, which will allow for the expansion of the GSP Nighthawk DUI Task Force as well as the continued funding of the department's Administrative License Suspension program, both of which were created in 2004.

Impaired drivers account for almost a third of traffic deaths on Georgia roads each year, and the effort to reduce that number is one of the objectives of the Nighthawk DUI Task Force, according to a press release announcing the grant.

The GSP Nighthawks is a team of GSP troopers who have undergone specialized training in impaired driving enforcement and patrol in metro counties during peak hours for impaired drivers.

The Newton County Sheriff's Office is also participating in the statewide efforts toward reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.

"Deputies will be out in force during the holiday period in an attempt to deter, detect and arrest individuals who make the mistake of getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated." Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said. "DUI drivers do not realize how dangerous they make our county's streets and roadways.

Brown also urged county residents to get involved and call 911 if they witness a possible DUI driver, so this holiday season can be safe and peaceful for everyone.

Covington Police Department officers are also gearing up for a busy holiday season, which usually brings out more impaired drivers.

"Because our traffic has increased so much over the years inside the city, we have to be cognizant of people who are driving under the influence of alcohol or people who are not paying attention to the traffic laws," Covington Police Capt. Craig Treadwell said. "If you celebrate too much, you're going to be in trouble if you're driving under the influence in Covington."

Newton Citizen News Editor Barbara Knowles contributed to this article.