It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most dangerous time for drivers.
Traffic fatalities are expected to surpass their highest levels in more than five years, Georgia officials said.
“The Thanksgiving holiday is probably the most dangerous time of the year,” said Andrew Turnage, public information coordinator of the University of Georgia’s Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute.
“There are more fatalities on Thanksgiving weekend because of an increase in the number of miles that people travel. People travel for the Thanksgiving holiday more than any other time of the year,” he added.
On Wednesday, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety stopped in Columbus, Albany, Macon, Savannah and Augusta to talk about prevention measures for traffic injuries and fatalities.
Gainesville resident Harris Blackwood is director of the office.
“(We) Want to do everything we can in the next 41 days to prevent any tragedies. Every one of those numbers represents a life; a family whose life has been changed forever,” he said.
“The basic message has been wear your seat belts, put down the cellphones, don’t drink and drive, don’t drive drowsy,” Blackwood said. “People will try to drive after they’ve worked a full day; that can be just as dangerous.”
Compounding the increase in normal levels of holiday travel is lower gas prices.
“You can reliably depend on lower gas (prices) to mean people will drive more,” Turnage said.
That makes a coordinated education and enforcement response critical, he said.
“That enforcement/education partnership has been the most effective tool at reducing injuries and fatalities,” he said. “The two together can definitely make a difference in reducing injuries and fatalities.”
The Georgia State Patrol is making preparations on the enforcement end.
“We know from past experience that speed, alcohol and failing to use seat belts are the primary contributing factors in fatal crashes,” Col. Mark W. McDonough, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said in a press release.
“By conducting concentrated patrols or holding road checks across the state, troopers, deputies and officers can intercept violators before they are involved in a serious traffic crash,” he said.
McDonough added a stark reminder to impaired drivers.
“Enjoy the holiday period, but also know that if you are driving under the influence, you will go to jail and your vehicle will be impounded on the spot,” he said.
Driving while impaired is a problem across the board, Turnage said.
“Virtually every driver, from newly licensed drivers all the way into the mid-40s, almost 2/3 of those injuries and fatalities involve alcohol,” he said.
Last year during the holiday period, the Georgia State Patrol investigated 466 traffic crashes across the state that resulted in 303 injuries and 13 fatalities.
The Gainesville Police Department is also planning to be extra vigilant.
The department’s Traffic Services Unit will be on special alert for distracted, dangerous and impaired driving.
The emphasis on seat-belt safety is a national initiative during the holiday period.
“Seat belts save lives, and in a crash keep you from being thrown from the vehicle,” McDonough said. “Please take the time to put your seat belt on and be sure that children are properly restrained as well.”
In general, traffic fatality trends have been concerning, Turnage said.
“You can assume that gas prices would be the reason why people are driving less, and therefore there are fewer fatalities,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is the fatality rate has only changed a quarter of a percent despite the fact that we’re driving less.”
The holiday period of heightened enforcement measures begins at 6 p.m. today and ends at midnight Sunday.