Cops to be out in force over holiday

COVINGTON -- Public safety officials say the end of summer is a deadly travel time for Labor Day vacationers, and they are pledging all their resources to keep violators off Georgia highways.

Commissioner of the Georgia State Patrol Col. Bill Hitchens said GSP troopers will be on the lookout especially for impaired drivers and speeders during the Labor Day holiday, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday and ending at midnight Monday.

During the 2009 Labor Day holiday travel period, there were 1,917 traffic crashes reported in Georgia that resulted in 867 injuries and 15 traffic deaths, according to statistics reported by the Georgia Department of Transportation. There were no alcohol-related deaths, although one fatality was the result of a drug-impaired driver, Hitchens said.

Hitchens encouraged travelers to allow plenty of time to reach their destination and to make sure their vehicle is in top-notch condition.

"The heat this summer has taken a toll on tires," he warned. "Troopers have investigated several crashes, some that resulted in fatalities, where tires have blown causing the driver to lose control."

The Newton County Sheriff's Office and Covington Police Department plan to be out in force.

"We're going to be doing active enforcement. This is a very busy travel time with the summer season ending," NCSO spokesman Lt. Keith Crum said. "We'll be working the interstate ... and working major state roads, as well. We will be assisting the Georgia State Patrol when needed and ... looking for violators. Our objective is always the safety of the citizens. We'll be paying particular attention to speeders and those driving under the influence."

CPD spokesman Lt. Wendell Wagstaff said CPD officers will also be out on the interstate, as well as patrolling neighborhoods.

"This is a high traffic period with people leaving town and coming back to town. Football season is also beginning, and there will be a high level of traffic out there," he said. "We encourage everybody to use their seat belts in trucks now as well as cars, make sure kids are restrained, travel the speed limit, be observant and don't drink and drive."

Several official initiatives are in operation through the Georgia Department of Public Safety and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to reduce traffic deaths during the Labor Day holiday. Troopers from the GSP and officers with the Georgia Department of Public Safety's Motor Carrier Compliance Division are joining their law enforcement counterparts in neighboring states this week to encourage safe travel and target impaired drivers with the 19th Annual Hands Across the Border Campaign.

"For almost two decades, this DUI enforcement campaign has served as a yearly reminder that law enforcement here in Georgia and in our neighboring states continues to crack down on impaired driving," said GOHS director Bob Dallas. "As motorists all over the Southeast hit the road for the last big holiday weekend of the summer, they better not hit the bottle before they get behind the wheel. Because if they choose to visit Georgia, their vacation plans will also include a visit to jail if they choose to drive drunk."

Additionally Operation Zero Tolerance (if you're over the limit, you'll be under arrest), 100 Days of Summer Heat (targeting failure to use safety belts and child restraints, speeding and aggressive driving), and Operation C.A.R.E., or Combined Accident Reduction Effort (sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, this effort unites state law enforcement in a campaign to keep the number of holiday period traffic deaths as low as possible through high visibility enforcement and education) also remain in effect through the Labor Day travel period.

The highest number of traffic deaths recorded over a Labor Day holiday period was in 1968 when 35 traffic deaths were reported, and the lowest occurred in 1939 and 1995 with seven fatalities each. Over the last seven years, the Georgia Department of Transportation reports 13,897 total crashes during the Labor Day Holiday period with a total of 6,700 injuries and 120 deaths.