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Editorial: Make effort to drive, boat sober this Fourth
Keep safety first on busy highways, lake over holiday
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DNR Rangers will be out in force patroling Lake Lanier this holiday weekend for potential violators and safety issues.

A long holiday weekend, hot summer weather, cheap gas and a world of distractions are the perfect formula for danger on Georgia highways.

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety is again joining local law enforcement agencies in enforcing its Zero Tolerance for alcohol use and driving on Georgia roads, where AAA predicts some 1.1 million will travel this holiday. Troopers and local law officers will be out in force along our highways keeping a sharp eye out for erratic, aggressive or potentially impaired drivers.

On roadways clogged with fast-moving vehicles, anything impairing a driver’s judgment can lead to disaster. Having a few beers or cocktails at a cookout, restaurant or other shindig is enough to render anyone incapable of making quick decisions needed. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that one person dies in an alcohol-related traffic crash every 53 minutes in the United States.

And if you get caught, the penalty will be steeper. A new law goes into effect Saturday that will require first-time DUI offenders whose blood alcohol registers 0.15 or higher to install ignition locking systems on their vehicles after a conviction. The device can test alcohol levels on a driver’s breath and make the vehicle inoperable if he or she has been drinking.

Officials from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and state public safety agencies are spreading the word this week in a statewide tour to remind drivers of the law, which is now in effect in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

“States that have passed ignition interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders have seen the number of drunk driving deaths drop by as much as 50 percent,” GOHS Director Harris Blackwood said in a news release.

According to MADD, ignition interlock devices have kept 2.3 million impaired drivers iff the road and has reduced the number of repeat DUI offenders by as much as 67 percent.

The need for caution doesn’t just include alcohol but also devices that distract us from the road. Chief among those are cellphones, their constant bleating of texts and alerts often coaxing eyes off the highway. That message or email can wait until you arrive. And phone calls should be handled carefully, ideally via a hands-free device, to ensure drivers aren’t focused on something other than the car ahead of them.

Such caution also goes for boaters on Lake Lanier during what is expected to be a busy, crowded weekend. Be aware that the legal alcohol limit for boat operators is the same as it is for highway drivers, .08 percent, which sometimes can be the result of just one drink. First-time violators can face up to a year in prison and fines up to $1,000 if convicted. With a lake full of not only vessels but swimmers, skiers, rafters, kayakers and paddleboarders of all ages, everyone needs to stay aware, alert and sober to avoid serious accidents.

Yes, the penalties for a DUI or BUI are onerous, and can cost someone money, time and even their job in some cases. Beyond that, it’s just common sense, for your sake and others. Please be smart and don’t let your guard down. If you’re enjoying adult beverages on the lake or at a fireworks show, make sure someone sober can drive home. Other options include calling a taxi, ride service like Lyft or Uber, or AAA’s Tow to Go for a free ride or tow up to 10 miles through 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Holiday weekends are meant for fun, in this case to celebrate our nation’s birth and the common bonds of being American. Anything that mars that occasion by introducing the threat of violent harm is ... well, un-American.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman. 

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