State and local authorities on Monday warned area residents to “drive sober or get pulled over” during the July Fourth holiday, whether on land or water.
The catchphrase was at the heart of a statewide tour officials from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and departments of Public Safety and Natural Resources led through Georgia to tell the public that law enforcement will not only increase patrols in search of drunken drivers but also will monitor the waters.
With stops planned in Albany, Columbus, Macon and Savannah, officers introduced a new “partner” to help combat impaired driving during Operation Zero Tolerance, a multiple-agency campaign the Georgia State Patrol leads annually to keep travel ways safe.
Because Georgia’s boating-under-the-influence law went into effect May 15, this marks the first summer during which 0.08 will be the legal blood alcohol limit for both boaters and drivers.
“Getting drunk boaters off the water helps keep drunk drivers off the road,” Harris Blackwood, the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said outside the Georgia State Patrol Helicopter Hangar at Augusta Regional Airport. “Nobody should celebrate our nation’s independence with a night in jail because they didn’t find a sober driver.”
Blackwood said preliminary numbers on major lakes are showing that people are getting that message that 0.10 is no longer the legal limit to operate a watercraft.
On Georgia roads, July Fourth remains one of the most dangerous holidays, during which alcohol-impaired crashes account for 23 percent of all traffic incidents. In the past two years alone, the state has averaged 88 alcohol-impaired crashes between July 3 and July 5.
Blackwood said getting drunk drivers off the road is even more important at this point in 2013 because crash data show the state has more traffic fatalities than this time last year.
As of June 20, 2012, the state had 499 fatalities, compared with 520 for 2013.
“While a 4 percent increase may not seem like a lot to some people, that is an additional 21 people who won’t be able to celebrate our nation’s independence this year,” Blackwood said. “We’re launching Operation Zero Tolerance to not only rid the roads of drunk drivers, but to try and keep our traffic fatalities as low as possible.”
Lt. Lewis Blanchard said the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office hopes to reverse the statewide trend by teaming with Georgia law enforcement agencies to crack on drunk drivers.
“We will have everything from increased enforcement to road checks,” Blanchard said. “Whatever it takes to save lives during the holiday period.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 251 people nationwide were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes during the July Fourth holiday in 2011. Of those fatalities, 38 percent involved at least one impaired driver, which in some circumstances, officials believe could be a product of boaters who were already intoxicated.
“Our folks will be out on the water looking for impaired operators,” said Col. Eddie Henderson, the director of the Department of Natural Resource’s Law Enforcement Division. “It is our top priority to make sure everyone enjoys their recreational time on the water and makes it home safely.”