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Celebrate holiday safely, officials urge

POSTED: December 31, 2008 1:00 a.m.

From driving to fireworks, state officials are urging people to celebrate safely this New Year’s holiday.

The Georgia State Patrol estimates 20 people will die in traffic crashes during the 102-hour holiday period, which starts at 6 p.m. today and ends at midnight Sunday.

In addition to the predicted 20 deaths, the state patrol estimates there will be 1,250 injuries in 3,108 crashes during the holiday period. During the 102-hour Christmas holiday period, 24 people died in 3,325 traffic crashes, while there were 868 injuries reported.

Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said speed, not wearing seat belts and people driving while impaired continue to be the primary contributing factors in fatal holiday wrecks.

And law enforcement will be out in force looking for those impaired drivers, as the holiday weekend will bring to a close the national campaign targeted at stopping drunk drivers. Troopers will conduct sobriety checkpoints across the state.

"While only two of the traffic deaths last year were alcohol related, New Year’s is traditionally associated with festivities that often involve the consumption of alcoholic beverages and tragically that leads to an increase in the number of impaired drivers on our roads," he said. "Remember to plan ahead for your holiday parties and plan nonalcoholic beverages for
designated drivers. Everyone can benefit by remembering to not let friends drive drunk."

Hitchens reminded party hosts to arrange alternate transportation for impaired guests by calling a taxi, friend or family member to get guests home safely.

Fireworks also often are part of New Year’s Eve festivities, and authorities warn that most types of fireworks are illegal in Georgia and all should be used with caution.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine urges parents to protect their children and themselves from the dangers of fireworks. Remind children that if they find unexploded fireworks, do not touch them, and immediately contact the local fire department.

The sale and individual use of any type of firework, except certain kinds of sparklers, is illegal in Georgia. The penalties are a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and/or a sentence of up to one year in jail. Professional fireworks displays are permitted, provided they are licensed through the local judge of probate court.

Oxendine said sparklers are legal in Georgia, but should be used properly and with adult supervision.

"In 2006, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated approximately 9,200 people for fireworks-related injuries. Approximately one-third of these injuries occurred among children age 14 years and younger," he said. "It’s traditional to celebrate the coming of the New Year with fireworks. I urge our citizens to enjoy them safely by watching a professional display as they mark the arrival of 2009."



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