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Drivers asked to travel safe this weekend

CONYERS -- Between the long weekend in celebration of Memorial Day and high school graduations, the roads in Rockdale and Newton counties are likely to be very crowded.

The 78-hour Memorial Day holiday travel period begins this evening, and the Georgia State Patrol said Thursday officers will be out in force and will be on the lookout for impaired drivers and other traffic violations that could potentially cause a traffic crash. The holiday period begins at 6 p.m. today and ends Memorial Day.

The Crash Reporting Unit at the Georgia Department of Transportation and the GSP predict 15 traffic deaths on Georgia roads during the holiday travel period this weekend. Officials are also predicting 1,972 traffic crashes and 696 injuries.

During the Memorial Day holiday weekend last year, Georgia recorded 16 traffic deaths and 2,430 crashes. The crashes resulted in 1,126 injuries.

Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, reminded drivers to exercise caution this holiday weekend while they travel.

"Last year, 16 people died on our roads during the holiday weekend, including three deaths that were alcohol-related," Hitches said in a released statement. "Seven of the 14 people killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts or other safety equipment. Two people were killed in motorcycle crashes."

High school graduation ceremonies planned for the weekend will add to the local traffic. With roadways expected to be packed, authorities stressed the need for defensive driving.

Rockdale County High School, Heritage High School and Newton High School graduations will take place Friday night in Conyers. Rockdale County graduation will be at 6:30 p.m. at the school's Reid Stadium at Rowland and Pine Log roads. Heritage graduation will take place at 8:30 p.m. at the school's Evans Stadium on Ga. Highway 138 South.

Newton County will graduate its seniors at 7 p.m. inside the Church in the Now sanctuary, located on Iris Drive, west of the Salem Road exit of Interstate 20.

Seniors from Salem High School, Eastside High School and Alcovy High School will graduate in separate ceremonies on Saturday.

Salem's graduation ceremony will be held at 8:30 a.m., Saturday at Seminole Stadium on the school's Underwood Road campus. Eastside's graduation will be held at 10 a.m. while Alcovy's graduation is scheduled for 4 p.m., both to be held at the Church in the Now.

Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said his deputies will be out in force also looking out for impaired drivers. The RCSO's traffic unit and crime suppression task forces will be combined this weekend to concentrate on traffic issues and enforcement activities.

The weekend also marks another year of collaboration of four state law enforcement agencies in an annual traffic enforcement campaign. Referred to as the "Take Back Our Highways" program, officers of state public safety agencies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee will target traffic violations most commonly identified as contributing factors in fatal traffic crashes.

Motorists are advised to obey the posted speed limits and be aware of reduced speeds in construction and school zones; buckle up and make sure children are properly restrained at all times; pass safely; keep a safe distance from other vehicles; obey all other traffic laws; and demonstrate patience and courtesy while driving.

Motor Carrier Compliance officers in Georgia will also be watching for unsafe commercial motor vehicles traveling the state's roads and also emphasizing the "Leave More Space" message of the Georgia Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks (G-TACT) Program.

The public is encouraged to contact the GSP at *GSP (*477) with concerns about reckless drivers, Hitchens said.