Labor Day weekend: Police prep for traffic

COVINGTON - Area law enforcement agencies are gearing up for one of the biggest travel weekends of the year and vow they are going to do everything they can to make sure travelers are safe.

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety is already making its presence felt as part of the "100 Days of Summer H.E.A.T." campaign and Operation Zero Tolerance. They promise citations for speeding and aggressive driving, tickets for failing to buckle up and jail time for anyone driving under the influence.

The grim predictions are that there will be 18 traffic deaths on Georgia roads with 1,725 traffic crashes and 975 crash injuries across the state during the Labor Day travel period.

Troopers from Conyers Post 46, which covers Newton, Walton and Rockdale counties, will be carrying out the state enforcement in conjunction with local police departments and sheriffs' offices.

According to Georgia DOT, four of the 19 traffic deaths during the 2008 Labor Day holiday travel period were alcohol-related.

"That's in keeping with Georgia's overall average of one out of five fatal crashes involving alcohol," said GOHS spokesman Jim Shuler in a press release. "And there's disturbing news for drivers who think these fatal holiday crashes only happened on our interstates. They're just wrong. They're dead wrong."

Shuler said five of last Labor Day's fatal crashes occurred on interstate highways; 10 deaths were on state roads; three were on county roads; and one occurred on a city street.

"Thirteen of those crash victims had something else in common. They weren't wearing their safety belts when they died," he said.

GOHS Director Bob Dallas said the message should be clear to Georgia drivers.

"Safety belt, DUI and speed law violations will not be tolerated," he said, but added that in addition to saving lives, adherence to traffic laws can be economical as well.

"High-risk drivers need to know speed is not only a killer on our roads, it's also murder on their wallets. Besides getting you a ticket, speeding, along with jack-rabbit starts and sudden stops, wastes gas," Dallas said. "Your car's fuel efficiency begins to rapidly decrease at speeds over 60 mph. A lead foot lowers your gas mileage around town by 5 percent and by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds. So as a rule of thumb, every 5 mph you drive over 60 is like paying at least 20 cents more a gallon at the pump."

Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said his agency is ready for the Labor Day challenge. His deputies will be out on the roads again this weekend to patrol and set up road checks. Overall, he advised motorists to give plenty of time to reach their destination to avoid speeding and simply don't drink and drive.

And, he said, it's best to be proactive and assume you will at some point in your driving career be in a crash.

"It may sound corny, but I tell my deputies to always prepare for when you'll be in an accident, not if you're going to be in an accident," Wigington said. "With a deputy patrol car, it's an issue because of the stuff inside that needs to be tied, but I would say the same to all drivers out there because if you drive, you will eventually be in an accident. It's just best to be prepared."

Wigington suggested keeping seat belts tight and low and to store anything in the trunk side-to-side rather than from front-to-back. Large items are less likely to puncture the fuel tank if placed side-to-side, he said.

Covington Police Capt. Ken Malcom said his agency will be looking for speeders and other violators over the long weekend.

"We'll be out there," he said. "If we can prevent crashes, then we've done our job."

The Newton County Sheriff's Office will also make a concentrated effort on traffic enforcement during the holiday weekend.

"Traffic and patrol deputies will be out in force keeping a watchful eye for speeders and targeting DUI drivers throughout the Labor Day weekend," NCSO spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell said. "There will be DUI and license checkpoints throughout the county."

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