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No beating Summer Heat

By Ed Brock

John Smith is a safe driver who obeys the speed limit, especially now that he's heard about "100 Days of Summer HEAT"

"I think it's for all our safety, so I think it's a good cause," said Smith who is from Forest Park.

Sponsored by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the statewide program targets speeders, drunk drivers and seatbelt violators using many different law enforcement agencies.

"So far we've had over 400 agencies reply back (with information on ?Summer HEAT')," said Rob Mikell, GOHS deputy director.

The HEAT in "Summer HEAT" stands for the GOHS's Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic multi-jurisdictional law enforcement unit. "Summer HEAT," which began in May and will continue until after the Labor Day holidays, is intended to fill the gap between implementations of two other GOHS campaigns, "Click It or Ticket" that focuses on seatbelt violations and "Operation Zero Tolerance" that targets drunk drivers.

"We're going to be putting a lot of emphasis on impaired driving during the July 4 holidays," Mikell said.

Speeding, seat belt violations and impaired driving are the top three causes of injuries and accidents on Georgia roads, Mikell said. So far, while GOHS has not collated statewide numbers of citations or arrests made as a result of the program, the public has been providing plenty of feedback.

"Quite a few people have either e-mailed or called the office saying they love the concept," Mikell said.

But Deborah James of Jonesboro, who at first said she hadn't heard of the program, said after learning about it that it didn't really apply to her.

"I haven't gotten a ticket in 15 years," James said. "I think they need to focus on other things beside speeding tickets. There are many other problems we need to focus on."

Those issues include homelessness and "getting out of the war," said James who said she believed traffic tickets were a big revenue generator for city, county and state governments.

Mikell said he had heard that argument before.

"If that was the case we wouldn't have launched a major media campaign before this event started. We've done everything we can to let people know this is happening," Mikell said. "It's not about the tickets, it's about saving lives."

The goal of the "Summer HEAT" program is voluntary compliance, Mikell said.

Two weekends ago Clayton County officers were participating in "Summer HEAT" operations along I-75, including one on June 20 that focused on catching speeding motorcyclists.

"Other jurisdictions have had a lot of problems with motorcycles flying down the highway, changing lanes with reckless abandon," said Clayton County police Capt. Tom Israel, head of the Atlanta area HEAT unit.

During that operation they made a total of 294 charges, including eight for seatbelt violations, six for child restraint violations, 214 for speeding, two for lack of insurance, four DUIs, six for driving on a suspended license and 54 "others" (tag violations, equipment violations.)

Israel said his officers are trying to run a Summer HEAT operation at least two times a week.

"People know we're out there. For the most part I think people are paying attention to their speeds for now," Israel said. "The only way we'll know if we did any good is if the accident rates drop and people obey the speed limits."

The Henry County Police Department has two officers in the HEAT unit and two regular traffic officers, said Lt. Stoney Mathis. While he doesn't have specific numbers, Mathis said he has seen the statistics for the department's participation in Summer HEAT and "it seems like we're doing pretty well."