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Turning up the summer HEAT

By Ed Brock

The phrase "Click It or Ticket" brought a look of puzzlement to New York state transplant Laura Johnson.

"I just moved here," said Johnson, now a resident of Riverdale.

But most Georgians have become well acquainted with the Click It or Ticket campaign that aims at enforcing the state's mandatory seatbelt laws and other traffic laws. And now they have a new phrase to learn, "One Hundred Days of Summer HEAT," the HEAT being Atlanta's multi-jurisdictional Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic police unit.

"I guess I'm prepared. I wear my seatbelt all the time," Johnson said after learning what was in store for her.

This installation of "Click It or Ticket" began on May 24 and will continue until June 6. As usual, county and municipal departments will be participating, using television and radio advertising along with increased patrols and road checks to look for seatbelt violators, speeders and other criminals on the road.

Last year the national "Click It or Ticket" campaign increased seat belt usage by four percentage points to 79 percent, Forest Park Police Capt. Chris Matson said.

"The only proven way to get significant increases in belt use among young people and ultimately save lives is through high visibility enforcement, including targeted and intense advertising to alert people to the enforcement," Matson said in a statement. "Teens and young adults are killed at far higher rates in crashes because they are caught in a lethal intersection of inexperience, risk taking and low safety belt use."

The "Summer Heat" program will follow roughly the same format as "Click It."

"But this is for a full 100 days," said Clayton County police Capt. Tom Israel, commander of the HEAT unit that includes agencies around the Atlanta area including Clayton and Henry. "Our main goal is to reduce the speeds on state roads, interstates and county roads."

Sponsored by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the "Summer HEAT" program will run in conjunction with two other enforcement campaigns, "Operation Zero Tolerance" around Independence Day and "Hands Across the Border" on the Labor Day holiday weekend.

"Operation Zero Tolerance" focuses on catching drunk drivers and "Hands Across the Border" is a partnership with state patrols in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina and Tennessee.

"On average, every week, 29 people die in motor vehicle crashes in Georgia," said GOHS Director Bob Dallas. "We know car crashes are not a natural cause of death. The crashes that kill, maim and injure thousands of Georgians each year are preventable and that's the goal of ?Summer HEAT.'"

Programs like "Summer HEAT" and "Click It" are working, Henry County Police Capt. Ken Turner said.

"I think they've proven that through the statistics," Turner said, indicating that there's been a 5 percent increase in usage since the programs began.

Darryl Lee of Morrow has already seen a "Click It" road check this year, but he didn't have to pass through it.

"I think it's good. I think the whole purpose is for them to try to save lives and make sure children are safe," Lee said.

On the flip side, Lee said some people think it's just a money-making operation by the state. Turner said that's not the case and in fact most of the fees collected, one way or another, go to cover the cost of enforcing the laws.