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Blackwood sworn in as highway safety chief
New chief to settle in new title this week
Harris Blackwood, left, of Gainesville, is sworn in Tuesday as director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Gainesville resident Harris Blackwood is the new face of Georgia's road safety.

Sworn in Tuesday as the director for the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, Blackwood served on Gov. Nathan Deal's campaign and inaugural team.

He said he felt emotional as he took his oath of office next to his wife, daughter, mother-in-law and several friends.

"Having been through all we've been through in this campaign and being one of the first employees in the campaign, I made it to ‘So help me God' and the lump in my throat was pretty tight," Blackwood said Tuesday afternoon. "That was the moment this all became real."

Blackwood and other top state agency heads were sworn in Tuesday after the winter weather postponed their oaths from Jan. 11, the day after Deal's inauguration.

Prior to joining the Deal campaign, Blackwood was community editor of The Times and wrote a Sunday column.

He said he's ready to get started in his new position.

"I came into the office a couple of days last week since the swearing in was postponed and had to sign mountains of paperwork," Blackwood said with a chuckle. "The last thing the governor said to me today was in the next few days we should talk about what we can do together."

This could include discussions with First Lady Sandra Deal about focusing on child safety seats and restraints.

"I hope as a grandmother and mother, she'll be an advocate in terms of encouraging people to use child safety seats and use them correctly," Blackwood said.

"One of the most common things found in automobile crashes are the different sorts of seat belts and child seats. Making those two match can be challenging."

Blackwood is also working on the agency's budget, which starts Oct. 1.

"Right now there are programs in place that we approved and funded last year, and we'll be in the process of accepting applications for new programs soon," he said.

"This is a much broader agency than I imagined. After I started learning all that I do, I saw the very broad reach, which is exciting for what we can do for the people of Georgia."

Most of all, Blackwood is focused on one statistic - 1,300 people died in traffic accidents in 2009.

"It'll be a similar number for 2010, and those are 1,300 people each year who won't be home for Christmas or birthdays, or it could be young people who never met the great potential we expected of them," he said. "Those are real people, and that's the one thing I want to remember every day as I walk into this office."

The department oversees driver's education, Students Against Destructive Decisions programs, the Super Speeder Law, the Move Over law and distracted driving programs on cell phone and texting use.

"We're not many months away from when prom begins, and we try to do everything we can to keep the number of deaths and injuries low for young people. The season of those begins around March and continues through the end of graduation," he said. "The biggie coming up is Super Bowl weekend, which is one of the biggest single days for DUIs in the state. We encourage people to designate a driver or find a place to stay because the most expensive hotel room is cheaper than a DUI."

After working several positions in Deal's campaign, transition and inaugural teams, Blackwood finally gets to settle into his new title this week.

"It's a new routine that I'm adjusting to, and I'm looking forward to working with the great staff here," he said. "I've got great ideas and have a great feeling of anticipation of what's to come. I promised the governor this morning that I will do the best job I can."

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