Summer driving crackdown continues

By Ed Brock

Jan Ingram of Jonesboro has noticed the increased presence of law enforcement on the highway in Clayton and Henry counties.

Their presence means 100 Days of Summer HEAT, the statewide crackdown on traffic violations sponsored by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, is still in full swing.

"I think it's good. It keeps the idiots down," Ingram said. "They need to be out to do their job."

The Summer HEAT program for 2005 is almost halfway finished and the program has led to a significant number of arrests and citations.

"It's been very steady," said Clayton County Police Capt. Tom Israel.

Israel heads the county's traffic enforcement division as well as the multi-county Highway Enforcement Against Aggressive Traffic Unit that lends its acronym to the summer program.

Summer time means more people on the road for vacation, and that can also mean more dangerous or intoxicated drivers on the move.

"This is the time of year we stress safe vehicle operation," Israel said. "This program works. Last year it reduced fatalities by quite a bit."

During last year's campaign officers state wide issued 61,165 seat belt citations, 8,785 child restraint citations, 223,470 speeding citations (4,164 of which were for commercial vehicles), 2,737 reckless driving charges, stopped 18,038 uninsured motorists and 17,152 drivers with suspended or revoked licenses.

They also made arrests for 272,497 non-traffic related offenses, including 7,409 for drug-related offenses, 5,850 felony arrests, found 6,156 wanted persons and stopped 1,986 stolen cars.

In May and June of this year, according the GOHS Web site, the Clayton County Police Department, Sheriff's Office and the police at Clayton State University made 126 DUI arrests. They cited 1,442 people for speeding and 269 people for seatbelt and child restraint violations. They also made 99 drug related arrests, 32 other felony arrests and apprehended 199 fugitives.

June's statistics are not available for Henry County, but in May Henry County police reported 91 DUI arrests to the Web site. They cited 861 people for speeding and 309 drivers for seat belt and child restraint violations. Officers in that county also made 25 drug related arrests and caught 29 fugitives.

This is the second year for 100 Days of Summer HEAT and the HEAT units were begun in individual cities about three years ago. While the GOHS doesn't have all the data yet on whether actual driving speeds have gone down, Deputy Director Rob Mikell has high hopes for the program.

"Every indication is it is going well," Mikell said. "The message is out there and law enforcement is out there in a little bit higher numbers than they would be otherwise."

Although the number of fatalities were a little higher than predicted for the Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday weekends, a disappointing fact for all the agencies participating in the program, Mikell said he's hoping there is a positive side to that.

"I feel like that's also put an extra fire in all our stockholders to keep something like that from happening again," Mikell said.

This year Israel's unit is focusing on the use of saturated patrols more than road-checks, but they are still averaging four road-checks a week on random roads. Henry County police are focusing a little more on road-checks, said Lt. Jason Bolton with that agency.

On Aug. 30 there will be a statewide interstate enforcement blitz and then four more such blitzes in Clayton County during that same month.

Ashley Johnson of McDonough has felt the HEAT.

"I got a speeding ticket a couple of months ago," Johnson said. "I got caught."

Johnson admits she was just going too fast down a back road in Locust Grove, though the speed limit does change pretty quickly there. However, she would like to see more enforcement on the interstates where some drivers like to tailgate at high speeds.

"I wish that they would catch those kind of people," Johnson said. "Especially those 18-wheelers. They get right up on me."