(SAVANNAH) The start of the summer driving season is weeks away and both Georgia and South Carolina are looking at new ways to keep people safe on the roads. 2016 was a deadly year on Georgia’s highways, with more than 1,500 deaths on the roads in the state. Chatham county consistently ranks one of the highest in the state for traffic fatalities. That’s why the state is teaming up with local police to reduce those numbers in the most populated country in the Coastal Empire.
Last year, there were more than 20,000 traffic crashes in Chatham county alone and 59 people died in those wrecks. Statewide, 1,564 people died on the roads in Georgia. Brian Mixon is a law enforcement liaison with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “74% were directly associated with three behaviors. Speed, which you need to slow down. Impairment, which is crazy when you think about the amount of advertising and money that goes into telling people not to drive impaired, and then the third one is distracted. so distracted driving really does lead to death.” Mixon said.
The GOHS is partnering with the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department to tackle these deadly driving behaviors. They’re reviving Operation Rolling Thunder and providing SCMPD with three new cruisers, dubbed H.E.A.T. units. Harris Blackwood, Director of GOHS, explains the acronym. “Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic and aggressive traffic can be anything, that can be people who are texting and driving. That’s people who are speeding, that’s people who are drunk driving, or doing anything else that endangers the lives of others on the road.” said Blackwood. Chief Jack Lumpkin with the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department says H.E.A.T. officers are on the road and writing tickets. “Our H.E.A.T. officers are functional, they’ve been functional since the first of the year and they are taking drivers off the street, every day, that are impaired.” Lumpkin said. He adds that they have a keen eye out for the most dangerous drivers who are are simultaneously engaging in the three worst behaviors behind the wheel. “When you combine those, it’s really dangerous, if you got an impaired person who’s distracted and speeding, of course you’re creating a greater harm to society.” said Lumpkin.
The same summer driving safety concerns in Georgia are mirrored in South Carolina as well, where impaired drivers, speeders, and those drivers who are distracted will get the most attention from law enforcement this summer. Lance Corporal Matt Southern with the South Carolina Department of Public Safety says their goal is target zero. “Our goal is Target Zero and it’s a goal everyone who uses the roadway can help us to obtain. We all have an obligation to do the right thing anytime we are behind the wheel, riding a motorcycle, bicycle or moped or if we are a pedestrian. One life lost is one too many.” it’s a goal they say everyone on the road should strive for because one life lost is one too many.” said Southern.
Mixon says there is evidence that distracted driving is a growing problem in Peach State, pointing to the statistics regarding lone car crashes. “Our single largest increase last year in fatalities, uh, was single vehicle, single occupant, two-lane state routes, not the interstate, where the vehicle left the roadway, over-corrected or hit a tree. It lends itself to distracted.” Mixon said. He adds police in Georgia are using innovative techniques to crack down on distracted drivers, utilizing checkpoints once reserved to fight drunk drivers, to catch distracted drivers.