0

H.E.A.T. targets impaired and speeding drivers

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Efforts are underway to increase safety for holiday motorists in Georgia, by taking drunken drivers off the roads during the upcoming Independence Day weekend.

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) is in the midst of its "100 Days of Summer H.E.A.T.," campaign. H.E.A.T., an acronym for Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic, is designed to reduce the number of speeders and drunk drivers on Georgia roads, according to GOHS Director Bob Dallas.

"What we've learned is that excessive speeding ... is one of the major components in the causal factors for crash deaths," said Dallas.

The state-wide endeavor kicked off at the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, and extends through Labor Day. During the program, Dallas said, the GOHS focuses on educating the public on the dangers of impaired driving, and the need for drivers to ensure they and their passengers are wearing seat belts.

H.E.A.T., the director added, has yielded positive results in recent years, including a decline in the number of crash-related injuries and deaths during summers in Georgia. "That leads me to believe that the public is responding to the message that speed kills," said Dallas. "Traditionally, we've lost about 1,600 Georgians to crash deaths per year. Last year, we were at under 1,300, and we're still in double-digit declines."

He said that Georgia's Super Speeder law, which went into effect in January, has also contributed to improvements in crash statistics in the state. Under the law, drivers who are convicted of speeding at 75 miles per hour on two-lane roads, or at 85 miles per hour anywhere in Georgia, are subject to a $200 state fine, in addition to a standard speeding-ticket fine.

Dallas said there have been 451 crash deaths in Georgia, thus far, in 2010, compared with 537 this time last year. Those "unspeakable tragedies," he said, could be reduced further through proper seat-belt usage, fewer drunk drivers on the roads, and motorists obeying posted speed limits.

"We would be well under 1,000 [crash deaths per year]," Dallas said. "That's still too many. Ultimately, it comes down to those changed behaviors that result in fewer lives lost."

AAA Auto Club South is also preparing for an annual endeavor to reduce the number of impaired drivers on the roads during the extended holiday weekend. From Friday, through July 5, AAA's Tow to Go program will enable intoxicated individuals to get home without getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, according to the company's public relations manager, Jessica Brady.

"It's for anyone who's been at a bar or restaurant, has had too much to drink, and doesn't have a designated driver," she said. "We will send a tow-truck driver and truck to pick them up, and give them a free ride and tow home, confidentially."

The program, she said, has been a success since its 1998 inception, and is offered during every holiday weekend for a region covering Georgia, Florida, and the western two-thirds of Tennessee.

"So far, it has removed more than 11,400 drunk drivers from the roadways," said Brady. "The purpose of the program is to protect both the intoxicated driver and the public, from avoidable car crashes. Last year, we received over 1,600 calls. So, that's 1,600 drunk drivers that we've kept off the roadways."

Intoxicated drivers, in need of the AAA service, Brady added, can call 1-800-222-4357.

The Henry County Police Department is also continuing to take measures to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the roads during the holiday period, according to Police Capt. Jason Bolton. Those endeavors, he said, have been spotlighted by the traffic-safety group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

"Our officers take driving under the influence very seriously," Bolton said in a press release Wednesday. "In fact, the numerous MADD awards that some of our officers recently received can attest to that."

The police department, in March, garnered 14 awards, at MADD Georgia's annual Law Enforcement Golden Shield Honor Awards Banquet. The accolades included the Agency DUI Hero Award, for having the highest total of DUI arrests in 2009, according to county spokesperson, Julie Hoover-Ernst.

"Henry County's HEAT Unit made 445 DUI arrests, and issued nearly 5,000 traffic citations in 2009, which contributed to traffic-related fatalities in Henry County dropping by nearly half, from 35 in 2008 to 19 in 2009," she said.