Law enforcement plans increased road patrols during the final weekends of the year, with the goal of continuing a declining trend of highway deaths over the past five years.
The Georgia State Patrol's standard requirement for holiday travel days is to have 75 percent of its force on patrol. That means troopers will be looking for reckless drivers, seat belt violations and drivers under the influence.
"Each holiday period, troopers are called to investigate traffic crashes involving serious injuries or fatalities, and these crashes could have been prevented," said Col. Mark McDonough, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
The holiday travel period will begin at 6 tonight and end Monday night. The New Year's holiday period will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 30 and end the night of Jan. 2.
Sgt. Dean Allen, commander of the patrol's Gainesville Post, said he expects both Christmas and New Year's Day weekends to be similar to last Thanksgiving weekend — relatively smooth with few wrecks.
"I think it being on a Sunday you're going to have a little bit more travel in the morning than what we normally would over Christmas, but I think it will probably be about the same," Allen said.
During last year's Christmas holiday period, GSP investigated 351 wrecks resulting in 280 injuries and three deaths, according to public safety statistics. Troopers also made 95 DUI arrests during that same period.
During the New Year's holiday period, troopers investigated 320 wrecks that resulted in 270 injuries and seven deaths, according to statistics.
Patrols also arrested 174 people during that period for DUIs.
Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks with the Hall County Sheriff's Office said the county's deputies will also be on increased patrols due to the higher traffic volume.
The Department of Transportation will also suspend construction-related lane closures beginning 5 a.m. today and continuing until 5 a.m. Tuesday.
However, crews may still be working at some sites and heavy equipment may remain in close proximity to highways. Also, emergency related lane closures could become necessary at any time.
The department will not have work hour restrictions for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, meaning crews could be working on those days.
"Almost all of our contractors decide for themselves not to work on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day so we no longer put that stipulation in our contracts," said DOT District Construction Engineer, Johnny Emmett.
Perhaps the busiest day of the year for the patrol is New Year's Day. The patrol plans to have several road checks during the early hours of the day as New Year's Eve revelers head home.
"We're going to hit the DUIs pretty hard during New Year's patrol like we typically always do," Allen said.
Authorities believe drivers have become more responsible in recent years by avoiding hazardous driving and driving under the influence.
"I think a lot of people have come to realize we're out during the New Year's holidays, but we are going to be out in force," Allen said.
For five consecutive years, fatalities on Georgia highways have declined. In 2010, a total of 1,244 highway deaths occurred in Georgia, according to National Traffic Safety Administration statistics.
That was a decline of 48 deaths or 3.7 percent from the previous year. But 2010's death toll was down by 500 people from the 2005 record of 1,744.
"While we wish no one was ever injured on our highways, we are most gratified by this decline in fatalities," Georgia DOT Commissioner, Keith Golden said.
Officials credit the declining trend to the DOT's Strategic Safety Plan that was implemented in 2006.
The plan uses data to focus on affordable engineering solutions, enforcement, motorcycle safety, seat belt use and efforts against impaired driving.
"We're concentrating on raising awareness and also on engineering and construction improvements — things like improved roadway drainage, center median cable barriers, rumble strips and driver recovery zones. They are making a difference and saving lives," Golden said.
Authorities also remind drivers to plan ahead when taking long trips. That includes checking tire pressure, windshield wiper blades, headlights, brake lights, turn signals, tag lights and fluid levels.
"Before leaving on the trip, make sure everyone is properly restrained, take frequent rest stops along the way and don't speed," McDonough said. "This is a festive time of the year and we want everyone to enjoy the holiday season, but we also want everyone to be safe on our highways."