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A safe Super Bowl
GOHS reminds partiers to exercise caution

COVINGTON - It's okay to party hearty during the Super Bowl, but beware of the dangers of drunk driving. The Governor's Office of Highway Safety warns that Super Bowl weekend is one of the most dangerous travel periods on Georgia's roadways.

"Just as the NFL's top teams go head-to-head in the biggest gridiron match of the year, traffic enforcement officers across Georgia will be fighting their own battle against impaired drivers," said Jim Shuler, director of public affairs for the GOHS.

Local law enforcement agencies promise to be among those on the front lines of the battle.

"We want everybody to enjoy the game, but obviously they need to take responsibility to not drink and drive to help us ensure the safety of motorists on our roadways," said Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell. "If you've had too much to drink, get a designated driver. Don't take a chance of hurting yourself, someone else or an innocent citizen."

Mitchell said NCSO deputies would be out in force over the weekend.

"And we will enforce DUI laws," he said, adding that fines and penalties are much stiffer since new laws went into effect July 1.

Troopers from Georgia State Patrol Post 46 in Conyers will be patrolling highways and interstates in Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties as part of Operation Zero Tolerance.

"That means if 'You're Over the Limit, You're Under Arrest,'" Shuler said in a press release. "Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher will go to jail. No warnings, no excuses."

Shuler said statistics show the core demographic of sports fans in the 18 to 34 male age group are most likely to be involved in DUI car crashes because they are most likely to drive while impaired.

During all of 2007, 32 percent of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol-impaired drivers. However, on Super Bowl Sunday, the number of traffic fatalities where the driver had a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 or higher jumped to 48 percent. In 2006, 30 percent of all traffic fatalities during Super Bowl weekend involved impaired drivers.

Shuler said the GOHS is warning all football fans, both party-goers and party hosts, about the dangers of drunk driving following a Super Bowl bash.

"After all, the consequences of a DUI extend far beyond the driver ... to potential victims on the roadway and even the hosts who over-serve their party guests prior to an impaired driving crash," Shuler said. " ... everyone's best defense against an encounter with a drunk driver is a buckled safety belt and a designated sober driver.

Because party hosts can be held liable if someone they over-served ends up in an impaired driving crash, the GOHS offers these tips for hosts:

· Before kickoff, make sure your guests have designated sober drivers;

· Never serve alcohol to guests under 21;

· Serve plenty of food and include soft drinks, juice and water;

· Stop serving alcohol at the end of the third quarter (just like NFL stadiums) and start serving coffee and dessert instead;

· Take car keys from anyone who thinks about driving impaired;

· Keep the numbers for local cab companies on hand for impaired guests.

But ultimately, taking responsibility for your own actions falls on the shoulders of the individual.

"Know your own limits and know when it's time to stop drinking," said GOHS Director Bob Dallas in the press release. "Many fans are planning to enjoy themselves this Super Bowl Sunday, but no one should ever plan to drive impaired. Your actions on Super Bowl Sunday could end with an impaired driving arrest or a deadly traffic crash. DUI is a completely avoidable crime with far-reaching consequences."

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com.