Authorities seek to make holidays safe for motorists

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Local and state law enforcement officers will be joining with others nationwide in preparing for a busy holiday travel season as motorists take to the highways for the Christmas and New Year's holiday weekends.

Operation Zero Tolerance DUI Crackdown is already under way with sobriety checkpoints to be placed at strategic locations throughout the holiday period, according to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. Officials are urging everyone to wear proper safety belts and to use child safety seats, pointing out that is the best defense against a drunk driver.

The GOHS urges those who do drink to appoint a designated driver and remind that anyone breaking Georgia's DUI laws will go to jail.

"No matter who you are, what you drive or where you drive it, when you're caught driving impaired, you will be arrested. No warnings. No excuses. No exceptions," said GOHS Director Bob Dallas.

Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety Col. Bill Hitchens said the Christmas and New Year's holiday periods are each 78 hours long and warned they could be deadly for motorists.

The Christmas holiday travel period begins Thursday at 6 p.m. and ends at midnight Sunday. The New Year's travel period begins on Dec. 30 and ends at midnight, Jan. 2.

Last year during 78-hour holiday periods, Georgia recorded 1,948 traffic crashes over the Christmas holiday period that injured 809 people and claimed the lives of 11 people. Eleven people also died over New Year's, with 2,083 crashes and 789 injuries.

Hitchens noted that crash data from the Crash Reporting Unit at the Georgia Department of Transportation show only one alcohol-related fatality during the 2009 Christmas holiday period and none over New Year's. He noted that five of the 11 fatalities during Christmas and six of the 11 during New Year's were not using safety equipment. One fatality during each holiday was a pedestrian.

Georgia State troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers will be patrolling not only the interstates but the state highways, as well.

"Last year during the two holiday periods, the majority of the fatal crashes occurred on state highways, county roads and city streets," Hitchens said. "So, we will balance our enforcement efforts between the secondary roads and the interstates."

Local law enforcement will be joining with troopers to conduct road checks through the holiday periods as well as employing concentrated patrols in an effort to keep the holiday traffic counts as low as possible.

"Impaired drivers and people not using safety equipment will be our top priorities," he said. "We want everyone to enjoy the holiday season while making traffic safety a priority as they travel."