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Officials urge cautious holiday driving

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Have fun during the Labor Day weekend, but act responsibly, is the message officials from area police departments and the Georgia State Patrol are preaching for local residents.

As the closing-time whistles blow at work places, and the final bells of the school day ring, today, many people will be hitting the road. Some of the adults might even hit up a bar for happy hour, or a few families might leave their homes unattended, while they take off on weekend vacations.

And, that is where law enforcement officials are hopeful that people will act responsibly this weekend. "Do not drink and drive, and notify police right away, if you see any suspicious persons in your neighborhood," said Clayton County Police spokesman, Officer Otis Willis, III. "Most of all, we want everyone to have a safe holiday."

There is a particular emphasis on safety on the roads.

According to the Georgia State Patrol, the 78-hour Labor Day travel period will begin today, at 6 p.m., and run through midnight on Monday. The state patrol got a head start on the holiday weekend by launching its participation in the nationwide "Operation Zero Tolerance," anti-drinking-and-driving campaign, on Aug. 20, the state-wide law enforcement agency announced earlier this week.

State troopers are expected to be out, on the roadways, side-by-side, with local police officers and sheriff's deputies, to enforce driving laws this weekend, the state law enforcement agency said in a written statement.

There were 1,917 traffic accidents, resulting in 867 injuries and 15 deaths, during the 2009 Labor Day weekend, according to the State Patrol. Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner, Col. Bill Hitchens, in a written statement, pointed out that alcohol was not a factor in the cases where someone died on the roadway.

"Last year, there were no alcohol-related traffic deaths reported over the Labor Day holiday period," Hitchens said. He added, however, that the same kind of statement could not be said about drugs. "One of the deaths involved a drug-impaired driver," Hitchens said.

There will be one thing that is expected to make holiday traffic issues even worse in the Southern Crescent -- this weekend's NASCAR races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in Hampton. Clayton Police spokesman, Officer Willis, said local drivers should be mindful that with the race in town, traffic will be heavier than usual.

"Drivers need to understand there may be heavier traffic, on the main throughways in the county, such as Tara Boulevard, this weekend, due to the race," said Willis. "You may need to leave early, or go a different route than you would normally go, to get where [you] are going.

"The most important thing is to enjoy the weekend, and stay safe," Willis added.