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Officials step up DUI patrols
Programs offer rides to impaired drivers
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Better safe than sorry

Need a free ride home for New Year’s? Call 1-800-AAA-HELP and a AAA tow truck will pick up members and non-members free of charge and tow their cars.

The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office’s warning is clear: Absolutely do not drink and drive this weekend.

In an attempt to nab impaired drivers, patrols will be increased this New Year’s holiday in various locations — both rural and city — throughout Liberty County, Sheriff’s Office Capt. David Edwards said.

"Our sheriff would want us to have a safe holiday," Edwards said. "[We should] plan ahead as adults and plan our actions before we get into a situation that we didn’t expect … call a friend or call a taxi."

During major holidays, AAA Auto Club South offers "Tow to Go," a free towing program, available to both AAA members and non-members, that will tow intoxicated drivers’ cars home confidentially.

The travel agency partnered with Budweiser in 1998 to fund the program and help party-goers get safe rides during popular holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Labor Day and Halloween, among others.

Last year, 76 percent of the calls came between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and have increased since

the program has taken hold, according to the AAA South website.

"In 2009, AAA Auto Club South received 1,600 calls. Since the program’s inception, over 11,650 intoxicated drivers have decided to use Tow to Go vs. getting behind the wheel when their sobriety was in question," according to the site.

If a person is intoxicated, they may call 1-800-AAA-HELP, free of charge, and have their car towed home.

According to a news release from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety’s public information unit, the number of drunk drivers increases during the holidays each year — not just during New Year’s.

"In December 2009 alone, 753 people were killed across the country in crashes involving drivers with illegal blood alcohol concentrations of .08 or higher," according to the release.

During the past five years, recorded alcohol-related fatalities have dipped and risen again, according to a GOHS traffic safety fact sheet for Liberty County.

During 2005, two fatalities were recorded, then six in 2006, with a dip in 2007 to two fatalities. Three were recorded in 2008 and five in 2009, according to the Georgia Highway Safety website.

Georgia’s program to fight drunk driving, spearheaded by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office, is called Operation Zero Tolerance. It began Dec. 17 and runs through Jan. 2.

OZT was founded in 2000, according to GOHS Law Enforcement Services Director Ricky Rich.

"We’re even telling motorists when to watch out for more flashing lights in their rearview mirrors because this campaign is completely about saving lives," GOHS Director Bob Dallas said. "It’s not about revenue and it’s not about writing more tickets. It’s about making sure people survive the holidays."

Edwards said if he had to take a guess, New Year’s is the holiday in Liberty County that seems to have the most arrests for drunk driving. July 4 is right behind it, he said.

"It would be a guess; the first part of the year is certainly one that everyone celebrates the most," he said. "I think everybody should have a good time and be safe. Everyone should come home and be with their families after having a good time."

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