Recession changes methods of Georiga State Patrol

ATLANTA --- Since the recession, troopers are parking their cars to save money on gas, and are catching more violations for drunken driving, seat belts and child restraint but fewer speeders.

Citations issued by the Georgia State Patrol for drunken driving have increased 37 percent in the four years since the start of the recession, according to figures obtained by Morris News Service on Wednesday.

Tickets for drivers without insurance increased 29 percent in the same period. Seat-belt and child-restraint infractions are also higher. However, speeding tickets are down by 25 percent.

Drivers' behavior might not explain all of it. The tight state budget might.

"We've asked troopers to conserve fuel where they can, and they have been good about doing so," said Gordy Wright, a spokesman for the State Patrol.

Troopers are parking their cars and conducting more stationary roadblocks. The change trimmed the average car's gas bill to $410 per month in the fiscal year that ended in June.

An estimated $2 billion shortfall in the budget for next year led patrol officials to ask for troopers to reduce spending further to $400 per month.

With more than 10,000 deaths nationally last year related to drunken driving, AAA is pleased to see the higher arrests, according to the auto club's Michelle Harris, the director of traffic culture.

Roadblocks can be a better way to see into a car to check on car-seat usage, she said. The visibility of a roadblock also spurs drivers.

"The roadblocks definitely give you that clear signal of what to do," she said.

Some attorneys who specialize in drunken driving cases say the increased arrests are a sign that troopers are catching more social drinkers who might be over the legal limit but whose driving wouldn't have been impaired enough to draw attention.

Georgia state patrol citations

VIOLATIONS 2010 / 2009 / 2008 / 2007

DUI 14,944 / 14,649 / 11,812 / 10,878

Speeding 131,833 / 169,530 / 150,732 /176,263

Seat Belt 50,260 / 57,600 / 57,881 /49,339

Child Restraint 7,861 / 9,333 / 8,821 / 5,980

Uninsured 4,687 /4,488 /4,175 /3,625

Total 331,951 / 383,704 / 348,722 / 357,344

Source: Georgia State Patrol