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Keeping the Fourth safe a priority for law enforcement

POSTED: July 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Many people likely will spend the Fourth of July relaxing at Lake Lanier or vacationing out of town, but regardless of your plans, make sure to be prepared and stay safe this holiday weekend.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s Crash Reporting Unit and the Georgia State Patrol estimate 23 people will die and 1,094 will be injured in some 2,315 wrecks on Georgia roads this weekend. Estimates are higher this year than last because the Fourth falls on a weekend, making the holiday period longer.

Senior Trooper Larry Schnall of the Georgia State Patrol said the majority of fatal crashes happen because people are speeding, not wearing seat belts or drinking.

People can call *GSP, or *477 to report any reckless or intoxicated drivers to the Georgia State Patrol.

"If you’re going to be celebrating and alcohol is involved, have a designated driver established before you go to your get together or outing," Schnall said. "Don’t drink and drive, slow down and always buckle up."

Maj. Jeff Strickland said the Hall County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting sobriety checkpoints at various locations in Hall County throughout the weekend.

Drinking and driving is not only dangerous on the road but on the water, said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

"Don’t drink and drive the boat," Cummings said. Though alcohol is allowed on boats, "the boat operator is supposed to be sober."

In addition to being sober, Schnall recommends drivers remain alert and cautious when on area roads this holiday weekend. Avoid distractions inside the car such as eating, looking at a map or adjusting the radio while driving, he suggested. He said to expect delays, although traffic could be lighter than it was over the holiday last year.

Those driving around Hall County can expect heavier traffic, especially around weekend events. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office is warning people attending fireworks shows tonight at either Laurel Park or Lake Lanier Islands that there likely will be congestion and traffic near those events.

The American Legion Fireworks show will be at Laurel Park for the first time this year. The sheriff’s office expects heavier traffic than usual on Ga. 129 from 7 to 11 p.m.

Lake Lanier Islands, located on Ga. 347, is also expected to have traffic from 7 to 11 p.m. There will be deputies at both locations directing traffic.

Statewide, Memorial Day weekend traffic was lighter this year than it was in 2007, and the Georgia State Patrol said the Fourth of July could follow the same pattern.

"During the Memorial Day holiday weekend we saw less traffic than normal. We feel that it may be in relationship to a high cost of fuel," Schnall said. "We’re not sure what July Fourth is going to be like."

But many are predicting a lot of boat traffic on Lake Lanier.

Cummings said the 100 foot rule, in which boats should keep 100 feet away from other vehicles, is important for boaters to maintain.

She said boaters also should be mindful that the lake terrain may have changed with lower water levels.

"Someone for example who has boated on Lake Lanier for the past two years and thinks they might have access to a certain cove ... might find that this year that level has changed to the fact where there’s exposed ground there," Cummings said. "Boat with caution relative to low water issues on Lanier."

The Department of Natural Resources also recommends wearing a life jacket, whether boating or swimming. Often, swimmers do not realize how far out they go and get too tired. To stay safe, wear a life jacket and know what level swimmer you are, she said.



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