Along with all the fun of July 4th festivities, there can be danger when we hit the road for those backyard barbecues or fireworks shows. Unfortunately, our holiday crash statistics show the travel season between July 4th and Labor Day can be one of the more dangerous times of year to get behind the wheel.
In Georgia, Operation Zero Tolerance (OZT) is enforced 24-7-365, but special enforcement periods are also used to target travel periods when impaired driving and summer holiday traffic volumes are historically highest on Georgia's roadways.
During OZT campaigns, police using roadchecks and concentrated patrols enforce the "Over the Limit, Under Arrest" policy for a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08, the legal BAC limit in all 50 states.
This special OZT summer enforcement period started June 18 and runs through the July 4th weekend. That's because history tells us Independence Day revelers don't always remember to get a sober driver.
Across the nation in 2008 during the Fourth of July travel period, there were a total of 491 traffic fatalities. Out of that national holiday highway death toll, a whopping 43-percent involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher.
Here in Georgia during the 2008 July 4th travel period, there were 1,905 crashes that resulted in 930 injuries and 21 fatalities. And more than one in four of those fatalities involved alcohol.
Commemorating our nation's independence should not include getting behind the wheel drunk. It's just not worth the risk. If you don't want to turn a festive summer holiday into a tragedy, you must find a sober driver before you start celebrating.
Every 45 minutes - that's 32 times a day - someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-impaired driving crash. Nationally, 37,261 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2008. Out of that number, 11,773 people were killed in crashes involving at least one impaired driver or motorcycle rider with a BAC of .08 or higher.
The numbers show you're 11 times more likely to die in a crash with a BAC of .08 or higher than if you're in the same crash with no alcohol in your system. Yet millions of people nationwide are still arrested for DUI every year. That's another reason why all states enforce the .08 BAC limit.
Why .08? Because it's at the BAC level of .08 where the risk of a fatal crash increases. It's at .08 where critical driving skills like braking, steering, lane changing, depth perception, judgment and response time are dramatically affected. These are the very skills needed to keep everyone safe on our roads.
It's because of these statistics that Governor's Office of Highway Safety is coordinating with more than 500 Georgia police departments, sheriff's offices and State Patrol posts to run concentrated patrols and set up sobriety checkpoints on our roadways and interstates this Summer holiday season. Safe drivers will go on their way, but impaired drivers will go to jail.
So while you're enjoying the flashing lights of Fourth of July fireworks, think about the flashing lights you'll see in your rear view mirror if you're caught driving drunk. Drunk drivers won't be able to go home after the July 4th fun. They go directly to jail.
If you do plan to indulge this Fourth of July, there are so many easy ways to make sure you and those around you get home safe. Arrange for a sober driver before you start drinking, store taxi cab company numbers in your cell phone or take mass transit. If you're the designated driver, it's very simple: don't drink! You can also help prevent tragedy by making sure you and your passengers are buckled up, because the best defense against a drunk driver is always a fastened seatbelt.
So remember, declare your independence from drunk driving on July Fourth. Know your limits, be responsible and be prepared to call 9-1-1 if you see an impaired driver endangering other lives on the road.
(Bob Dallas is director of the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.