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Stay safe during heavy travel periods during the holidays
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  Law enforcement officers across the nation are preparing for a busy holiday travel season as motorists take to the highways for the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

 Georgia DOT warns that motorists should expect congestion near malls and retail centers.

“We anticipate heavy traffic throughout the metro Atlanta area beginning Thursday around noon” said Georgia DOT Commissioner Vance C. Smith, Jr. “Mall and retail center traffic will be particularly congested. Additionally, many travelers will be returning home over the weekend.”

As a reminder, Georgia DOT will suspend construction-related lane closures on all interstates and major state routes from noon Thursday, December 23 until Monday, December 27 at 5 a.m.

 Colonel Bill Hitchens, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said the Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods are each 78-hours-long and could be deadly on Georgia roads.

 The Christmas holiday travel period begins at 6 p.m. Thursday and ends at midnight Sunday. The New Year’s holiday travel period gets underway at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30 and ends at midnight Sunday, 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. During the New Year’s period, 11 people were killed. There were 2,083 crashes and 789 injuries reported.

 Hitchens noted that crash data from the Crash Reporting Unit at the Georgia Department of Transportation shows 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 in each holiday period was a pedestrian.

 The Commissioner said 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,” Colonel Hitchens said, “so we will balance our enforcement efforts between the secondary roads and the interstates.”

 Hitchens said troopers will be conducting road checks throughout the holiday periods as well as 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.”

 He reminds drivers to always wear their seat belt, make sure children are properly restrained, maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you, and don’t operate a motor vehicle if you have consumed alcoholic beverages.

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