Stay safe: Memorial Day weekend often deadly on Georgia roads, waterways

Traffic heads north on I 85 on Monday, May 15, 2023. During the Memorial Day holiday period from Thursday, May 25, to Monday, May 29, AAA forecasts a substantial increase in travelers, with an estimated 1.32 million individuals in Georgia expected to travel at least 50 miles. 
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Traffic heads north on I 85 on Monday, May 15, 2023. During the Memorial Day holiday period from Thursday, May 25, to Monday, May 29, AAA forecasts a substantial increase in travelers, with an estimated 1.32 million individuals in Georgia expected to travel at least 50 miles. Miguel Martinez /

It’s the unofficial kickoff to the summer season, and Memorial Day weekend gives many a chance to travel while others relax closer to home.

But in Georgia, the celebrations often turn deadly on roads and waterways. Last year, wrecks involving vehicles, boats and water claimed at least 20 lives over the three-day weekend, according to investigators. Planning is key to avoiding disasters and staying safe, according to experts.

“We want to ensure motorists make this Memorial Day weekend travel period as safe as possible,” Col. Chris Wright, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said this week. “We encourage drivers to observe the posted speed limit, don’t drive distracted or under the influence, and to remember to make seat belt and child safety restraint use a priority.”

The highest number of traffic deaths during a Memorial Day holiday weekend occurred in 1969 when 27 people died in traffic crashes, according to the DPS. That was also the first year the agency kept traffic statistics for the holiday.

In 2002, troopers issued more than 10,200 citations, made more than 330 DUI arrests, and investigated nearly 400 crashes that resulted in over 240 injuries and 10 fatalities. Other law enforcement agencies also reported deadly crashes.

The auto club AAA projects 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, a 7% increase over 2022. That means law enforcement officers will be out in force with hopes of keeping roads safe.

In addition to vehicle crashes, a crash on a Savannah river killed five people, and drownings were reported in Lake Allatoona, Lake Lanier, and the Ocmulgee River in middle Georgia in 2022. An Atlanta man, 57-year-old Terry Daugherty, is believed to have drowned earlier this week in Lake Lanier, according to investigators.

The incident comes about two weeks after Margaritaville at Lanier Islands announced that its beach at LandShark Landing will no longer be accessible for swimmers. A spokesperson for the water park said safety was the primary factor in the decision. Jose Camarillo, 20, of Stone Mountain, drowned at Margaritaville during Memorial Day weekend in 2022.

If Lake Lanier is in your weekend plans, follow safety precautions and laws before hitting the water. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

icon to expand image

Credit: Jason Getz /

Pools and lakes offer relief from the summer heat. But every year, several in metro Atlanta drown, making water a leading cause of death for children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. And for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency treatment for water-related incidents.

For those on Georgia lakes, experts remind boaters that mixing alcohol with maneuvering a vessel is dangerous and illegal, depending on the amount imbibed.

The Sandy Springs Police Department said Wednesday a newly formed River Patrol Unit will be patrolling the Chattahoochee River between Island Ford and The Palisades beginning this weekend.

“The goal of this unit will be to deter any criminal activity on the river and the immediate surrounding areas in Sandy Springs,” the agency said. “Additionally, we aim to reduce the number of drownings as well as educate local swimmers, floaters, and boaters on the best safety practices all while enjoying their time on the river.”

For those in metro Atlanta who just have to hit the road for the weekend, be prepared for traffic jams, according to the WSB radio traffic reporters.

“The best rule of thumb is that leaving town late in the week is going to be much harder than returning early next week,” WSB’s Doug Turnbull told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

With school ending for many metro districts this week, the rush out of town is expected to begin Thursday evening, Turnbull said. The worst traffic will likely be on I-75 south of downtown but expect waves of slow traffic on I-75 southbound from Cartersville to I-285 on Thursday and especially Friday, he said.

On Friday, expect interstates to begin stacking up by lunchtime, so pack patience, Turnbull said.

And for anyone planning to rent an Airbnb for the weekend, plan to stay for a few days. The property rental company said it is once again cracking down on one- or two-night rentals used for party houses.



If you’re planning a weekend road trip, experts say take these precautions to keep yourself and your family safe.

1. Plan ahead. Before heading out, make sure any needed vehicle repairs have been made and check the air pressure in the tires, along with fluids and brakes. Have a first-aid kit and any other emergency supplies ready.

2. Obey the posted speed limit. When you exceed the speed limit, you reduce the amount of available time needed to avoid a traffic crash.

3. Do not drive impaired. Designate a sober driver, or call a taxi, ride-sharing service, friend or family member to help you get home safely.

4. Buckle up. Make sure everyone in the vehicle wears a seat belt and that children are properly restrained in the appropriate child safety seats.

6. Pay attention. Limit your distractions, and never use electronic devices to text or surf the web while driving. The Hands-Free Georgia Act prohibits all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.

Sources: Georgia State Patrol and AAA


Tips for staying safe when in the water:

1. Fence in all pools and spas.

2. Learn to swim or at least know survival skills, such as floating.

3. Provide constant attention to children.

4. Wear life jackets when on a boat. Children and inexperienced swimmers should also wear life jackets.

5. Swim in an area with a lifeguard when possible.

6. Know the signs of someone in trouble.

Source: American Red Cross