Weekend patrols stepped up

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Plans to ring in the new year should include plans for a designated driver, or the first day of 2008 could be spent in a jail cell, authorities say.

State and local law enforcement agencies have announced they will be out in increased numbers, patrolling the highways and setting up checkpoints to catch impaired drivers.

"We're going to be using all of our resources and working alongside our law enforcement network groups targeting aggressive driving and drunk driving," said Lance Cpl. Scot Edgeworth of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. "We're just asking those that are out there to make good choices and to make sure that they have those designated drivers."

Lt. David Turno of the Aiken Department of Public Safety said drivers can expect to see patrols increase throughout the next few days.

"Our hopes are simply to make it a safe one," he said.

On Georgia roads, the state patrol and sheriff's deputies are also intensifying their watch for drunken drivers.

Lt. Scott Gay, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, said his department would be adding about 20 police cruisers to the roads on New Year's Eve. He urged drivers to make plans for a designated driver or a taxi before leaving home to drink.

"If you have any doubt, don't drive," he said. "And if you think you're impaired, you probably are."

He said the department would also be setting up roadblocks that evening at different locations in the county.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office will have additional officers on the road as well, said sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.

"Our message for people who want to drink on New Year's is simple: Don't drink and drive," he said. "If you do, you will likely be stopped. We'll have checkpoints." The Georgia State Patrol began its New Year's traffic watch Friday, a patrol dispatcher said. Troopers will post all along Georgia's highways seeking out speeding motorists and drunken drivers, the dispatcher said.

The increased patrols will end at midnight Jan. 1.

Since the patrols began Dec. 14, there have been two highway fatalities in Aiken County and 32 statewide.

Lance Cpl. Edgeworth said the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's is the "deadliest time" on the nation's highways because the roads are busier.

"During December 2006, there were 1,076 people that were killed on American roadways," he said.

Lt. Turno said the seat belt law is something else the law enforcement network will aggressively enforce.

Though many traffic fatalities are alcohol-related, there are "still a number of people not wearing their seat belts, which is a contributing factor to some of these fatalities as well as serious injuries," he said.

As of Dec. 26, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety reports that 1,056 people have died this year on South Carolina highways, compared with 1,033 in 2006.

Of that number, 798 were motor vehicle occupants, 120 were motorcyclists, 104 were pedestrians, and 18 were bicyclists.

Staff Writers Stephanie Toone and Adam Folk contributed to this article.


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