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Party people warned to drink responsibly, drive safely

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

State and local public safety officials are urging drivers to drink responsibly, and drive safely this holiday season.

The Georgia Department of Pubic Safety and the Georgia Department of Transportation estimate 25 people could die over the holiday season on Georgia roads.

"Typically, the most common denominators that we're seeing during these fatal crashes are speeding, DUI, and failure to wear a seat belt," said Larry Schnall, spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol.

State troopers and other members of the public safety community will be patrolling throughout the holiday weekend. "Regardless of weather conditions or time of night, we readily accept the challenge of removing dangerous drivers from our roadways," said Schnall.

The Christmas holiday period began at 6 p.m., on Friday and will end at midnight on Christmas Day. But, through New Year's Day, local law enforcement agencies throughout the state will be cracking down on drunk driving as part of the Operation Zero Tolerance campaign. That effort involves state and local agencies, as well as the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, and it will include various road checks, roadblocks and other measures.

"One of our biggest tools we have in traffic safety is partnering with local law enforcement ... in programs like Operation Zero Tolerance and Click-it-or-Ticket," Schnall said.

The McDonough Police Department is teaming up with the Henry County Police Department to patrol streets for drunk drivers, said McDonough Police Chief Preston Dorsey. "We add extra patrols during the Christmas holidays, because of burglaries and armed robberies," he added. "[Also] we're going to be checking to make sure that people have valid drivers licenses, proper insurance, updated tags, and make sure that they have their seat belts on."

Dorsey says that holiday party-goers should drink especially responsibly this weekend.

"We're definitely looking for drunk drivers," he said. "If they're going to go to a party, and they're going to drink, they should have a responsible, designated driver."

The national Highway and Traffic Safety Administration reported that fatalities that involve one or more impaired drivers increase significantly during holiday periods.

"Alcohol and driving can be a fatal combination," said Leticia Messam, project manager of traffic safety programs at AAA Auto Club South. "Party hosts must be proactive in making sure their guests are not leaving their event intoxicated, with keys in hand.

"Unfortunately," Messam adds, "statistics prove that in the midst of all the festivities of the season, safety is not at the forefront of people's minds."

And State Patrol spokesman Schnall warns that even short distances traveled near the home can be as dangerous as traveling long distances along the Interstate.

"A majority of our fatal crashes occur on secondary roads, not interstates," Schnall said. "Drivers should drive safely[everywhere] this holiday season."