Cairo Police Department Patrol Sgt. Bruce Womble, left, and Georgia State Patrol Troop Six Assistant Commander Lt. Stan Stalnaker begin the holiday travel season by sharing important highway safety tips at a news conference Tuesday morning at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — As the holiday travel season begins this evening, the Governor’s Office for Highway Safety and the Georgia State Patrol is urging drivers to think safety first.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, law enforcement officials reminded Georgia residents how important safety is during the holidays when travel on the state’s roads is greatly increased. AAA The Auto Group estimates that of the 1.24 million Georgians who will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday period, 1.12 million will take to the highways.
According to Sgt. Bruce Womble of the Cairo Police Department, who also serves as a coordinator for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, that increase in travel also means an increase in traffic accidents and highway fatalities.
“Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve have the busiest traffic that we see all year and the highest fatality rate,” Womble said. “We’re trying to get the word out about the high traffic with the holidays coming up. Our fatality rates throughout the state are real high this time of year because it’s very busy.”
Law Enforcement officials like Womble believe that despite the high traffic counts, many holiday travel accidents can be prevented if drivers take certain precautions.
Womble said simple measures such as checking tire pressure and making sure the vehicle’s lights are operational are often overlooked, but can make a difference. Drivers should also avoid speeding, avoid illegally texting on their cellphones and insist that all passengers wear seat belts, he said.
The most important safety precaution of all, however, is that no one should drive while intoxicated. Drunk and impaired driving, Womble said, is the No. 1 cause of traffic wrecks during the holidays, and was responsible for 20 deaths on Georgia’s roads last year during the winter holidays season.
“In 2012, there were 1,000 alcohol-related crashes in Georgia between November 20 and New Year’s Eve,” said Womble. “This took 20 lives in Georgia. Nationwide there were 120 lives taken during that period. We’re trying to get the word out to drive sober and if you are impaired, have a designated driver. Get somebody, a taxi, whatever … just don’t drive impaired.”
Lt. Stan Stalnaker, assistant commander of Georgia State Patrol Troop 6, which comprises 23 counties, including Dougherty, Lee and Worth, echoed Womble’s remarks adding that in addition to Georgia’s 20 alcohol-related deaths, there were another 133 lives lost on Georgia roads during that same time period.
“The reason for doing this press conference is to kick off our ‘Season of Safety’ campaign,” Stalnaker said. “We’re just wanting to remind everyone to slow down, buckle up, drive sober and arrive at their destination safely. A lot of heartache can be prevented if folks take those simple steps.”
Stalnaker said that the Thanksgiving holiday period begins Wednesday at 6 p.m. and runs until Sunday at midnight. That 102-hour period, Stalnaker said, is the busiest of the year.
The State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies will increase the number of officers and troopers patrolling the streets during the period.
“State troopers are going to be out in force throughout the whole holiday period,” said Stalnaker. “They will be away from their families, out working to make sure that the motoring pubic can make it safely home to their families.
“Following these important safety measures will help everyone arrive at their destinations safely.”