Troopers prepare for holiday travel

Published 4:26 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2008

With gasoline prices across Georgia well below the national average, the Georgia State Patrol is preparing for the heaviest holiday travel period so far this year.

Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said the Thanksgiving holiday period began at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, and ends at midnight Sunday, Nov. 30.

Last year in Georgia, there were 3,057 traffic crashes and 1,190 injuries reported in the 102-hour holiday period. Also during the period, 21 fatal crashes were reported that resulted in 27 traffic deaths. This year, the Georgia State Patrol estimates as many as 3,325 crashes, 950 injuries and 19 fatalities could occur on Georgia roads.

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Col. Hitchens said traffic will be heavy throughout the holiday period. He said Georgia State troopers, as well as officers with the Department of Public Safety’s Motor Carrier Compliance and Capitol Police Services divisions, will be patrolling during the holiday period.

“Our troopers and officers will be keeping a close watch for impaired drivers, drivers speeding, as well as motorists not wearing seat belts or properly restraining children,” he said. “Most fatal crashes during a holiday period in Georgia involve an alcohol impaired driver, speed or the person killed not utilizing seat belts.”

In some crashes, a combination of the contributing factors is found, he noted.

Traffic crash data compiled from the 2007 Thanksgiving holiday period by the Georgia Department of Transportation found eight of the 27 traffic deaths involved an alcohol or drug impaired driver while 13 of the traffic fatalities were not using seat belts or other safety equipment. Additionally, 11 traffic deaths were recorded on state highways, nine on county roads, five on the interstates and two on city streets.

Col. Hitchens said Georgia State troopers will be heavily patrolling the secondary roads as well as the interstates throughout the holiday period.

“The traffic crash data bears out the importance that we balance our patrols between the interstates and the secondary roads,” he said. Plans for the holiday period include concentrated patrols, high visibility patrols and road checks. “Our goal is to make motor vehicle travel as safe as possible, no matter where you go in our state.”

State troopers urge drivers to plan their travels well in advance and to also consider travel times.

“Careful planning includes allowing plenty of time to reach your destination and anticipating travel delays,” Col. Hitchens said. “If alcohol will be part of your holiday activities, plan ahead and designate a sober driver.”

Motorists are also reminded that they may call Star G-S-P (*477) on their cell phone if they spot a suspected impaired driver. The call will be routed to the local Georgia State Patrol post. Additionally, motorists are reminded of Georgia’s “Steer It and Clear It” law that requires drivers involved in crashes with no apparent serious personal injury or death to move the vehicles out of the traffic lanes if they are drivable.

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is also an Operation C.A.R.E. holiday period. Operation C.A.R.E., or Combined Accident Reduction Effort, is a program of the nation’s state highway patrol agencies that promotes safe driving on interstate highways during the holiday periods through education and high visibility patrols to reduce the number of traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. The program, sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is celebrating its 31 year.

The highest number of traffic deaths ever recorded for the Thanksgiving holiday period was 43 in 1969 and the lowest was four in 1949.

During the past six years in Georgia, 111 people have been killed in traffic crashes during Thanksgiving holiday periods with 7,365 injuries reported in 18,823 traffic crashes.

The holiday traffic count will again be updated throughout the holiday weekend at the Georgia Department of Public Safety web site: