While many may take pride in the Georgia Bulldogs being No. 5 in the country on the gridiron, there’s a separate top-five list Harris Blackwood wants to escape.
“We generally rank No. 5 in the country in terms of fatalities. That’s more than New York. That’s more than Michigan. That’s more than Ohio, states we think of as big states,” said Blackwood, director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
But in Hall County, the number of traffic fatalities in 2018 dropped to 26 compared to the 31 deaths in 2017. The Georgia Department of Transportation also has a preliminary 2018 fatality total of 1,467, which would be 82 deaths fewer than in 2017. Blackwood said those statistics may shift slightly while the numbers are verified, but the preliminary report is “very encouraging.”
“We certainly believe that the new Hands Free Law is having some impact. To what impact, we don’t know,” Blackwood said.
Georgia State Patrol wrote more than 3,000 tickets statewide in the first three months of the new law, which prohibits drivers from holding a cellphone. Exceptions were made for voice-to-text capabilities, navigational applications and streaming music, but the user cannot touch the phone while driving.
Total wrecks, however, were up in Hall County, as the number jumped to 9,041 reports compared to 7,191 in 2017.
One category that skyrocketed and perplexed Sheriff’s Office Lt. Todd Casper, who works with the traffic unit, was an increase of crash reports on private property, which are usually incidents in a parking lot or in a person’s driveway.
In 2017, the private property report total was 379, but that jumped to 1,428 incidents in 2018.
“It may be some issue with insurance, that insurance is starting to make people file reports. I’m not sure,” Casper said.
The lieutenant recalled cases in commercial parking lots with no injuries or serious damage, but one of the individuals involved said they were going to need a report.
In Casper’s office, a scattershot of multi-colored thumbtacks and dots mark a map of Hall County. He gestured toward a row of red pins all along Friendship Road.
“These six (deaths) were within four months, right after that roadway opened,” Casper said of the expanded six-lane motorway.
But there was only one blue pin — representing 2018 fatalities — on that road, which fell under the Braselton Police’s jurisdiction.
Casper said one of his day-shift officers now spends most of his time patrolling in the Friendship Road area after concerns about speeding.
Four different residents near Mountain View Road voiced their concerns in the past month to the sheriff’s office, with each separately contacting Sheriff Gerald Couch, Casper’s traffic hotline, the headquarters’ community relations desk and another captain at the sheriff’s office.
The majority of Mountain View Road runs from McEver Road to Memorial Park Drive’s intersection with Atlanta Highway.
“None of them are the same person, and they’re all in a stretch that’s about 4 miles long,” Casper said.
In response to the complaints, Casper and his crew spent time out on Mountain View Road for the weekend preceding New Year’s Day and wrote 69 citations. Roughly two-thirds of those tickets were for speeding, as Casper caught one going 79 mph in a 40-mph zone.
Turning to the new year — which already saw two fatalities on New Year’s Day — Casper said he would have two of his day-shift officers to focus on Interstate 985 between the new exit 14 and exit 20.
At the statewide level, Blackwood said they are going to continue enforcement and education on the Hands Free Law as well as its Drive Alert, Arrive Alive campaign.
“You look at those fatalities, and it’s almost down the line — 25 percent of them roughly are from alcohol as a contributing factor. The other factor that is continuing to raise its head is drugged driving. The opioid problem is a real problem,” Blackwood said.
Traffic crashes and fatalities
From the Hall County Sheriff’s Office