With Memorial Day marking the start of the summer recreation season, local and state-level law enforcement agencies are asking drivers and boaters to be safe and exercise caution while enjoying their activities.
At a press conference on the shores of Lake Allatoona, representatives of the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement and Georgia Office of Highway Safety, among other agencies, were on hand to remind drivers and boaters not to drink while operating a vehicle and follow all safety precautions. The alternative, said Georgia Office of Highway Safety Director Harris Blackwood, could range from arrest to death.
“We want them to choose their ride. We want them to select the ride that they use,” Blackwood said as he gestured at a row of law enforcement vehicles and a hearse. “We don’t want to choose it for you. The choices that are made by law enforcement and DNR personnel and the one that we especially don’t want to choose is this one, because it will be their last one.”
Speakers including Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap, DNR Law Enforcement Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver and Team Georgia President Ron Fennell urged those who drink to have a designated driver or boater. GSP Col. Mark McDonough asked drivers to check tires on vehicles and trailers that may have sat over the winter.
After the remarks, Blackwood said the state would like to end summer without roadway fatalities increasing from the current 359 seen so far this year.
“This will be the second year that we’ve had the .08 [blood alcohol level] and it has been in effect for exactly one year. ... But we know that unfortunately there are still a lot of people who are drinking and driving and there will be enforcement efforts throughout this weekend,” he said. “Our focus during this first part of the summer is on seatbelts, but a lot of times when we do seatbelt enforcement we also find people who have been drinking and driving and we certainly want to make sure nobody’s on the road impaired. We also want to make sure nobody’s on the road endangering the lives of others.”
Unveiled in October 2013, the BCSO Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic unit will see its first Memorial Day weekend this year. Millsap expected HEAT, in addition to the Crime Prevention Unit, would see an upswing in cases, saying it happens during every holiday.
“We’re just making sure — don’t drink and drive, and if you do you’re going to suffer the consequences. Wear your seatbelt. Have your child restrained properly in your vehicle. And speeding, we’re going to be targeting that all weekend. Hopefully they’ll slow down,” he said. “... Like I said earlier, it’s a lot cheaper to call a taxi than it is to pay for a DUI. So that’s your option, and please don’t make us have to do our job. We like riding around and being seen and knowing that we’re there without having to do what we swore an oath to do.
“Please don’t drink and drive, and please wear your seatbelts. If you need us for anything, please call us. We’re here.”
Weaver said boaters on Lake Allatoona could call 911 or 1-800-241-4113 if they see another boat they suspect is being piloted under the influence of alcohol. Signs of an impaired boater include, “either excessive speed or extremely slow or chugging along, going from one bank to the next, not giving way to vessels, not staying in their lane of travel,” Weaver explained.
According to DNR statistics for the first quarter of 2014, Lake Allatoona has not had any BUIs, boating incidents or injuries reported. In 2013, DNR reported 12 boating incidents, 10 injuries, two fatalities, one drowing and 11 BUIs.
For more information on boating safety, visit www.goboatgeorgia.com.