Chad Hartley

Georgia Department of Transportation District Engineer Chad Hartley is shown speaking during a press conference Monday morning at the GDOT District 4 Office in Tifton.

TIFTON — In response to an alarming 25 percent increase in roadway fatalities in the first quarter of 2015, the Georgia Department of Transportation has launched a year-long multi-agency campaign, "Drive Alert Arrive Alive."

GDOT and law enforcement officials across Georgia kicked off the campaign to call attention to this matter and how changes in driver behavior can help to decrease these numbers.

Drive Alert Arrive Alive is a partnership between GDOT, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the Georgia Department of Public Safety. It educates drivers about specific changes they can make in their driving behavior to save lives. For the last nine years, fatalities on Georgia's roadways have declined. However, with an average of 100 deaths a month, Georgia is on track for 1,200 or more fatalities in 2015. That would be the first increase in annual fatalities in the state in nine years.

According to statistics, 69 percent of all roadway fatalities in Georgia are from drivers failing to maintain their lane; 79 percent of these fatalities may be the result of driver behavior — driver distracted, not wearing a seat belt, impaired, speeding, etc.; 60 percent are from single vehicle crashes hitting a fixed object like a tree, bridge, culvert, etc.; only 38 percent of victims in fatality crashes were wearing seat belts; and 17 percent of fatalities during the first three months of 2015 were pedestrians and bicyclists. GDOT District 1 (northeast Georgia) and District 3 (west central Georgia) show the highest increases in fatalities.

At a press conference held Monday morning at the GDOT District 4 Office in Tifton, remarks were made by GDOT District Engineer Chad Hartley and Georgia State Patrol Capt. Chris Wright. Other guests included state transportation board member Johnny Floyd and representation from the Valdosta Police Department and GSP Tifton post.

Attendees also heard from GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, who discussed in a brief video message the important steps that drivers can take to help reduce traffic fatalities.

McMurry said they're asking drivers to drive responsibly by following three steps every time they get behind the wheel: buckle up (it's the law), stay off the phone and mobile device (if possible, shut off the phone to avoid temptation — even hands-free is a distraction); no texting (Georgia law bans texting and driving) and drive alert (do not drive drowsy or impaired). Seat belts reduce the risk of fatality in a crash by about 45 percent and serious injury by about 50 percent.

"Since the beginning of this year, more than 424 sons, daughters, mothers, fathers have all lost their lives on our roadways and that's 424 too many," he said, noting the very sad fact is that so many of these deaths were preventable.

"You can help reduce fatalities in Georgia," he added. "We all can. We can take responsibility to protect ourselves, our passengers, other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists."

"We've joined with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, GSP, local governments and municipalities to echo one message and that is to drive alert and arrive alive," says McMurry.

Hartley noted they plan to work with schools and churches also to help push this campaign. He also reminded the crowd to be defensive drivers, advising them to look in their review mirror when stopped.

Wright addressed the danger of texting and driving.

"We need parents to set an example for their kids by putting away those mobile devices. We need them to set an example of buckling up every time they get in the vehicle," he said.

He added, "Traffic crashes is the leading cause of death among teenagers. Parents need to hold their teens accountable and they need to make sure they understand the deadly consequences of texting and driving."

"Every life counts, and every life that we save is another birthday that we get to spend with somebody, it's another holiday that we get to spend with somebody, it's another graduation that we get to celebrate with our teenagers," said Wright.

He said in an effort to reduce traffic crashes, they're partnering with local agencies to conduct sobriety checkpoints and concentrated patrols to remove impaired and careless drivers from the roadways.

"This is your warning and there will be no excuses, and you will be cited," he warned.

GDOT is committed to reducing fatalities and have worked for years toward zero deaths — to avoid roadway departure, to increase occupant protection and to reduce distracted driving. They utilize safety measures including safety edges, rumble strips, center median cable barriers, high friction surface treatments, reflective signage and striping, and pedestrian countdown timers. Safety operations include Georgia-NaviGAtor 511, flashing yellow arrows, roundabouts, synchronized traffic lights and variable speed limits. Safety programs include Safe Routes to School, Teens in the Driver's Seat, Railroad Safety and Work Zone Safety.

In the event of a crash or breakdown, GDOT advises motorists to never get out of the car on a freeway, unless your life is in imminent danger. Pull off the road if possible. Otherwise, remain seat belted in the vehicle, turn on emergency flashers, raise the hood, call 511 for HERO assistance or 911 for medical attention.

GDOT reminds pedestrians to do their part. Stay alert. Don't be a distracted pedestrian. Don't wear headphones or talk on a cell phone while crossing the street; cross at an intersection, obey pedestrian signals, use the "push to walk" button where available and look both ways before crossing — even on a one-way street.

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