COVINGTON - The Georgia Department of Highway Safety announced Friday that it is getting the jump on Fourth of July traffic enforcement by beginning a DUI dragnet immediately.
"The July 4 travel period is the second most deadly time to drive on Georgia roadways," said Jim Shuler, GOHS director of public affairs in a printed press release. "For most people, the Independence Day holiday means barbecues, fireworks and appreciation for our nation's freedoms. However, here at the GOHS, we all too often see the tragic side of what should otherwise be a happy summertime celebration. Only New Year's poses a greater threat to life behind the wheel or in the passenger seat."
Shuler said 14 people died during the 2007 July 4 travel period and nearly half were in crashes involving at least one drunk driver.
"That's too many victims lost to an entirely preventable crime," he said.
The Operation Zero tolerance DUI Crackdown is under way, and word from the GOHS is, "Don't say we didn't warn you." More than 500 Georgia Traffic Enforcement Network members - including law enforcement agencies in Newton and Rockdale counties - will participate in stringent DUI countermeasures across the state. Included in the efforts to get drunk drivers off the roadways will be surprise road checks and concentrated patrols. Seat belt and child safety seat enforcement will also be a priority.
"In Georgia, Operation Zero Tolerance is in effect '24-7-365,'" Shuler said. "But special enforcement waves are also mobilized to target these travel periods when impaired driving and summer holiday traffic volumes are historically the highest on Georgia's roadways."
He warned that the Zero Tolerance campaign mandates, "Over the Limit, Under Arrest," and there will be no exceptions. DUI-arrest policy means that every driver with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 will go to jail - no warnings and no exceptions.
"Driving while impaired just isn't worth this incredible risk," GOHS Director Bob Dallas said. "Regardless of age or level of driving experience, drivers who consume too many spirits while getting into the holiday spirit must find a safe and sober ride home. If not, Operation Zero Tolerance has significantly increased their chances of arrest in Georgia, while their excessive alcohol consumption has significantly decreased their chances of survival anywhere they drive."
Shuler said statistics show drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher are 11 times more likely to die in a crash than if they're involved in that same crash with no alcohol in their system at all.
"That's why all 50 states now uniformly enforce the .08 blood alcohol content limit because it's the line where critical driving skills like braking, steering, lane changing, depth perception, judgment and response time are all dramatically affected," Shuler said. "These are the very skills needed to keep everyone safe on our roads and the reason why .08 blood alcohol content is where the risk of a fatal crash increases drastically."
Dallas warns that celebrating with alcohol could spell a trip to jail.
"So while everyone else is watching out for the colorful lights in the sky during the Fourth of July fireworks, anyone who drives drunk will also need to watch out for the blue lights in their rearview mirror on the way home, because that's what they're going to see this summer," Dallas said.
Dallas has several suggestions for those who do plan to make alcohol a part of their Fourth of July or summer celebrations.
"Arrange for a sober driver, store taxi cab company numbers in your cell phone or take mass transit," he suggested. "If you're the designated driver, you, too, can help by reminding passengers about open container laws and not allowing alcohol to be consumed in your car, by obeying all traffic laws, and by making sure you and your passengers buckle your seat belts."
He said the best way to celebrate the holiday was to be responsible.
"Take a stand and declare your independence from drunk driving this July 4," he said. "Know your limits, be responsible and be prepared to call 911 if you see an impaired driver endangering other lives on the road."
The concentrated crackdown is in effect now through July 5.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.