Labor Day weekend: Expect packed Georgia roads, lakes despite pandemic

Have fun this holiday weekend, but do it safely, law enforcement authorities say.

“Troopers and motor carrier officers will be focused on speeders, unrestrained occupants, as well as distracted and impaired drivers,” Col. Chris C. Wright, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “We want everyone to enjoy celebrating the holiday this weekend, but the safety of our residents and visitors will always remain our top priority.”

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In 2020, car crashes killed 21 people during the three-day Labor Day weekend, more than doubling the number of deaths during the previous year’s holiday, the Georgia State Patrol said.

During last year’s Labor Day weekend, GSP investigated 13 crashes that killed 15 people. Various agencies around the state investigated the other deadly crashes.

Troopers also investigated 418 crashes, which resulted in 242 injuries. In addition to crash investigations, troopers and motor carrier officers wrote 9,226 citations, 10,411 warnings, and arrested 319 motorists for driving under the influence.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Game wardens with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will also be out in force for the weekend, patrolling state lakes to enforce safe boating, including boaters under the influence. During Memorial Day weekend, four people drowned in state waters, the DNR reported.

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol isn’t a new problem. But the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) says the pandemic has led to a rise in substance abuse, and that’s dangerous with more drivers on the road for the holiday.

“Labor Day weekend is a great time to get together and celebrate the unofficial end of summer,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in an emailed statement. “As we’ve done throughout the pandemic, Americans need to keep safety top of mind when behind the wheel. Every single death and injury in an impaired driving crash is preventable. Enjoy the waning days of summer — but do it safely.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation will be doing its part to ease weekend travel. The agency will be restricting construction-related lane closures on interstates and major state routes from noon Friday through 5 a.m. Tuesday. Lane closures will also be limited on major state routes that directly serve key tourist and recreation areas.

In metro Atlanta, traffic jams are expected to begin as early as noon Friday, GDOT said. Expect more traffic on Sunday and Monday, and the Tuesday morning commute could be slower than normal, experts advised.

“This year, we anticipate traffic volumes will be closer to what we experienced in 2019 as Georgians head out on the roads this Labor Day weekend,” Andrew Heath, GDOT’s state traffic engineer, said. “With this heavier traffic in mind, we encourage travelers to plan their trips ahead, practice safe driving behaviors and most of all enjoy their holiday weekend as safely as possible.”


STAYING SAFE OVER LABOR DAY WEEKEND

Whether traveling on the road or hitting a local lake for boating, experts say take these precautions to keep yourself and your family safe.

1. Plan ahead. Before heading out, make sure any needed vehicle or boat repairs have been made. 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. That’s whether in a car or a boat. 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. If on a boat, those under 13 need to wear life preservers.

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 cellphones while driving. Be aware of your surroundings while on waterways.

7. Wear a mask. And practice social distancing while in public places such as grocery stores, restaurants, bars, and other inside places. Continue these practices on beaches and parks.

Sources: Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the American Red Cross