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Get 2012 off to a good start

Of all the celebrations and observances throughout the year, none has a closer association with imbibing alcoholic beverages than New Year’s Eve.

Greeting the new year with champagne and other spirits for many is just as traditional as fireworks, streamers, noise makers and the big ball dropping in Times Square. But there is one aspect of celebrating the dawn of 2012 that should be sobering — the danger of driving while intoxicated.

Last year in Georgia, seven people lost their lives in traffic accidents over the New Year’s day weekend, which also saw the Georgia State Patrol work 320 wrecks that resulted in another 270 injuries. Another 174 drivers were charged with DUI over that holiday weekend.

Drivers who were out on Georgia’s roads — particularly the interstate highways — over the Christmas holidays that we just concluded can attest to the fact that troopers and other law enforcement are patrolling heavily during these year-end periods. While the overall traffic crash numbers worked by troopers were down for the four-day Christmas weekend — 280 wrecks compared to 351 in 2010 and 169 injuries compared to 280 the previous year — the death toll was up one from three to four, with three of those worked by agencies other than the GSP.

The messages seem to be sinking in with many of our state’s drivers. Georgia roads may be well on the way toward a sixth straight year of improvement. Federal and state authorities reported Tuesday that highway fatalities in Georgia dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 2010 — 1,244 compared to 1,292 in 2009, and far below the state’s record of 1,744 traffic deaths in 2005. Authorities say that Georgia is on track to see more improvement this year, with 62 fewer traffic deaths as of Monday compared to the number of deaths by Dec. 26 last year. The Georgia Office of Highway Safety reports that impaired driving fatalities dropped 11 percent in 2010 from 2009.

But law enforcement statewide will be out in force through Monday, GOHS officials say, as they implement the annual Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over campaign that started Dec. 16. Under the campaign, any driver caught with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher will be arrested and see jail time.

“It’s going to be hard to spread holiday cheer if you’re stuck behind bars for a completely avoidable offense,” GOHS Director Harris Blackwood said. “Don’t let your holiday season end in arrest, or worse, death. It doesn’t matter if you’re buzzed, had one too many or way too many. It’s just not worth the risk.”

Blackwood’s organization has some tips for keeping the holiday celebration happy and safe:

  • Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin;

  • Before drinking, designate a sober driver and leave your keys at home;

  • If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation;

  • If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don’t hesitate to contact your local law enforcement;

  • If you see know someone who is about to drive or ride impaired, take that person’s keys and help him or her make other arrangements to get home safely.

Drunk driving wrecks are 100 percent avoidable. However you choose to greet the start of 2012, make sure you greet it with family and friends, not with a cellmate or the grim reaper. The new year should be one full of promise, not regret.