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Posted: December 23, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Traffic safety a priority for holiday patrols

Traffic safety is the priority for holiday patrols over the next two weeks by Georgia State Troopers and officers with the Motor Carrier Compliance and Capitol Police Divisions of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. Both the Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods are 78 hours long this year. Last year, traffic crashes claimed the lives of 46 people in Georgia during the two holiday periods.

"Now through the first weekend of the new year is when troopers see an increase in the number of vehicles on the roads and an increase in the number of impaired drivers as well," Colonel Bill Hitchens, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety said today. "Stepped up patrols will be conducted in an effort to keep the number of traffic crashes as low as possible."

The Christmas holiday traffic count will begin Christmas Eve at 6 p.m. and end at midnight Sunday, December 27. During the 78-hour period, the Georgia State Patrol and the Crash Reporting Unit at the Georgia Department of Transportation estimate 2,226 traffic crashes will occur on Georgia roads. The estimates are also for 976 injuries and 18 fatalities. The New Year’s holiday travel period begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 31 and ends at midnight Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010. Estimates for the New Year’s holiday travel period are for 2,330 traffic crashes, 1,004 injuries, and 16 fatalities.

Last year during the Christmas holiday travel period, Georgia recorded 24 traffic deaths during a 102-hour holiday period. There were 1,261 injuries and 2,783 crashes reported. During the 102-hour New Year’s holiday period, there were 2,998 traffic crashes resulting in 1,222 injuries and 22 traffic deaths.

Earlier this month, the Georgia State Patrol announced a month-long crackdown on impaired drivers to reduce the number of impaired-driving fatalities on the state’s roads. Road checks, concentrated patrols, and high visibility patrols are planned throughout the holiday periods. "An alcohol or drug impaired driver will go to jail and their vehicle impounded on the spot," Colonel Hitchens added.

During the Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods last year, nine traffic deaths involved an alcohol impaired driver. Additionally, 31 of the 46 people killed over the two holiday periods were not wearing their seat belt. Eight of the victims were pedestrians. "The traffic crash facts show why enforcement is so important this time of the year," he said. "We certainly want everyone to enjoy the holiday festivities but everyone must keep traffic safety in mind while operating a motor vehicle."

The commissioner reminds drivers to make sure everyone is wearing a seat belt and children are properly restrained at all times and on every trip. He emphasizes the importance of designating a sober driver in advance if alcohol consumption will be in your party plans.

The highest number of Christmas holiday period traffic deaths occurred in 1971 when 36 people were killed and the lowest occurred in 1982 and 2002 with five deaths reported. For New Year’s, the highest occurred in 1981 and 1987 with 23 deaths and the lowest occurred in 1947 and 1958 when Georgia recorded only three deaths.

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