Heavy travel time calls for caution


This week is traditional in a way other than giving thanks, enjoying turkey dinners and shopping. It’s also the busiest travel time of the year.

And just a like seconds of turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes, an extra helping of caution should be on the minds of motorists on the state’s highways

For the past six years, Georgia roadways have gotten safer, with deaths attributed to traffic wrecks declining from each of those years to the next. According to state highway safety officials, however, that trend may end this year.

As of mid-November, there had been 1,013 traffic fatalities in Georgia for the year. With the heaviest travel times — Thanksgiving and Christmas — just starting, there is a real danger that the final tally for 2012 will exceed the 1,226 who died in 2011.

The important thing to remember is these are much more than just numbers. These are people — friends, relatives and strangers — whose lives have been ended prematurely in wrecks that in many cases could have been avoided.

“Already, we have surpassed where we were this time last year and we have not even entered the holiday season, our busiest traffic period of the year,” Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said. “We have to do everything in our power to hold that line and do everything in our power to make motorists pay attention to the deadly consequences of distracted and impaired driving and buckle up every trip, every time, from now until the end of the year. We simply cannot afford to lose another life on Georgia’s roads this year.”

Blackwood and Georgia State Patrol Col. Mark McDonough went to five Georgia cities — including Albany — on Tuesday to make residents of the state aware of the need for additional caution on heavily traveled roads.

“Wearing your seat belt is the single most effective thing you can do to ensure you and your passengers arrive safely to your family’s Thanksgiving celebration,” McDonough said. “It’s also an effective way to avoid getting stopped by law enforcement on your way home.”

About 50 percent of the traffic fatalities so far this year have involved people who weren’t buckled in, the officials say.

“While Georgia’s rate of seat belt use averages above 90 percent, nearly every week, there is a fatal crash involving a person who was not properly restrained,” said Blackwood. “Seat belt use is one of the few things we have control over in our lives. Neglecting it should never be a factor in our deaths.”

The state has launched Operation: Safe Holidays, which means stepped up traffic enforcement. Traffic overall, AAA Auto Club says, is expected to be up slightly from 2011, with 43.56 million Americans — 13.8 percent of the U.S. population — traveling. Of those, 39.14 million will be driving, about one out of every eight Americans. In Georgia, AAA expects 1.22 million people to be traveling this week, with 1.11 million of them on the highways.

“Fatal crashes frequently involve speed, an impaired driver, or the victim not being properly restrained,” McDonough said, “and sometimes it is any combination of these contributing circumstances.”

“We want everyone to enjoy the holiday period but make traffic safety the priority while you travel.”

Taking a little extra care on the roadway, and buckling up, can keep what should be a joyful time from turning into a tragedy.