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State predicts 14 road fatalities

LAWRENCEVILLE - State officials predict 14 people will die and 743 people will be injured in motor vehicle accidents between Friday and midnight Monday.

A total 1,701 crashes are expected, according to the Georgia State Patrol. Last year, 11 people died on Georgia roads during the Christmas holiday period and 586 people were injured in 1,250 crashes.

"This is a festive time of year," said Col. Bill Hitchens, Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner. "Tragically, too many families will have their holidays marred by traffic crashes. That is why our troopers and officers will be on patrol for the holidays."

In an effort to prevent collisions, the Georgia State Patrol is partnering with other law enforcement agencies across the state in Operation Zero Tolerance, an enforcement program targeting drunken drivers. Officers will be out in force on area roadways performing sobriety checks.

Authorities advise drivers to select a designated driver before partying or avoiding alcohol altogether. Everyone traveling to holiday destinations should also remember to wear a seat belt and have young children properly restrained in car seats.

The highest number of Christmas deaths occurred in 1971, when 36 people were killed. The lowest occurred in 1982 and 2002 with five deaths.

Officer Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department advises travelers to develop a plan in advance.

"Know your driving abilities, specifically your strengths and weaknesses," Moloney said. "Do you drive better during the day or at night? Either way, make sure you have plenty of sleep."

"Are you not as skilled when it comes to driving in bad weather? Plan your trips around the weather reports. Is it really that vital that you leave during rush hour? How much harm would there be if you left a few hours earlier, or a few hours later?"

All of those factors should be taken into consideration before getting behind the wheel.

If traveling to meet friends or family, Moloney advises motorists to make sure they know the route, the time they are leaving, and the time they are expected to arrive. Also, drivers should travel with a fully charged cell phone in case they have to make an emergency call, Moloney said.

Road warriors won't have to contend with construction activity this weekend. Because of the anticipated heavy holiday traffic, the Georgia Department of Transportation is suspending most construction projects and all work requiring lane closures until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Also, the widening of Interstate 75 in South Georgia will not resume until 5 a.m. Wednesday to accommodate motorists returning from football bowl games and other Florida travel destinations, said Georgia DOT spokesman David Spear.