ATLANTGA - In recent years, Georgia has always used the holiday season to reinforce the state's zero tolerance policy for impaired driving. If you're over the limit, you're under arrest. It's that simple.
However, the end of 2012 has brought a new sense of urgency for Georgia besides battling the Christmas shopping crowds and making New Year's resolutions. That's because for the first time in six years, Georgia is on track to experience an increase in traffic fatalities. If fatalities maintain their current rate, the state will surpass last year's total of 1,226 deaths on our roadways.
That's why the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) is adding a special message to its normal enforcement campaign this time of year and the Gainesville Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in the state are ready to do their part.
In addition to reminding Georgia motorists that if they don't drive sober, they'll get pulled over, GOHS has also launched Operation Safe Holidays to ask our drivers to be extra careful on Georgia roads so the state doesn't reach a 6-year milestone of traffic deaths.
"We always take this time of year to remind motorists that impaired driving is against the law 365 days a year in Georgia," said GOHS Director Harris Blackwood. "And while Operation Zero Tolerance is still effect, we also want to urge everyone to be extra careful as they hit the road this time of year. A great Christmas present for me would be seeing everyone get home safe and sound this holiday season."
And statistics show, the holiday season isn't just dangerous in Georgia. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2,597 people were killed in traffic crashes across the country in December 2010 and 775 of those were killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers.
While the loss of life is tragic enough, drunk driving can also create a tremendous financial burden. Statistics show that the average cost of a DUI can climb to nearly $10,000.
"The fact is that DUIs s are a drain on the state's resources, the offender's resources and the resources of any potential victim," said Blackwood. "It's imperative that Georgia motorists don't continue their Christmas partying behind the wheel. Law enforcement all over the state will be cracking down on impaired drivers and they will not hesitate to send you to jail, even if it is Christmas."
Here are a few tips to get home safely if you plan to drink this holiday season:
 Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin
 Before drinking, designate a sober driver and leave your keys at home
 If you're impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation
Georgia's annual holiday campaign of Operation Zero Tolerance begins on Friday and will last through New Year's Day. For more information on enforcement activities in your community, contact your local law enforcement agency. For more information on Operation Zero Tolerance, visit www.gahighwaysafty.org
STATE'S DUI-RELATED DEATHS DOWN LAST YEAR
Meanwhile, a federal study released Thursday shows Georgia ranks below the national average and Southeastern states in alcohol-related traffic fatalities for 2011.
The data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that from 2010 to 2011, the state experienced 24 fewer traffic deaths, which accounts for a 1.9 percent reduction; and 22 fewer alcohol-impaired driving deaths, which represents a 7.4% reduction. Georgia was shown to be 5 percent better than the national average of total reduction in alcohol-related fatalities.
"This data just further indicates that Georgia's aggressive enforcement of DUI law is working," Blackwood said. "But this good news doesn't mean we'll ease up on our state's impaired drivers. We have more work to do and we'll continue to crack down on DUI's 365 days a year."
Overall from 2010 to 2011, the nation experienced 632 fewer traffic fatalities, which represents a 1.9 percent reduction. There were also 258 fewer alcohol-related driving deaths, which represents a 2.5 percent reduction.