Area law enforcement officers and the Georgia State Patrol will be out during the Fourth of July holiday weekend to keep impaired drivers off the road.
The holiday traveling period began at 6 p.m. Thursday and ends at midnight Sunday. Despite higher gasoline prices, which could mean fewer vehicles on the road, the Georgia State Patrol is preparing for a busy holiday weekend.
“The warmer weather and holiday parties tend to increase the number of impaired drivers on our roads,” said Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. “If you will be traveling this holiday period, designate a sober driver before the party begins, give your car keys to the host or make other arrangements to get you home, but by all means don’t drive if you have been consuming alcohol.”
Since Tuesday, any person who receives a fourth driving under the influence charge is considered a felon. The old DUI law allowed the courts a five-year window to capture DUI offenses before handing down tougher punishments. Under the new law, courts get a 10-year window to count up a drunken driver’s convictions.
Georgia’s new DUI law also requires first time offenders to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation. If the evaluation deems it necessary, the offender must participate in a court-supervised substance abuse treatment program to decrease the likelihood of recurring offenses.
State troopers will be not only maintaining a presence on the interstates, but also concentrating on the secondary roads where the majority of traffic crashes occur, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
Carmen Scarborough of the LaGrange post of the Georgia State Patrol said it couldn’t tell people if troopers will have sobriety checkpoints, but it will have extra patrol units out during the weekend.
“Roads are already starting to get more crowded and backed up, so we will have double crews patrolling the roadways this weekend” she said.
Lt. Lon Russell of the Russell County Sheriff’s Department said deputies will not have sobriety checkpoints, but they will have increased patrols throughout the area.
“If the state troopers set up checkpoints, we have permission to assist with that, and I would be surprised if they didn’t set up any checkpoints,” he said.
In Georgia and Alabama, a driver is considered DUI with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher.
If a person is caught for DUI, getting arrested is not the only step in the process.
After a person is taken into custody, their car is towed, said Chief Deputy Steve Osteen of the Russell County Sheriff’s Department.
Osteen said if a person refuses to take the Breathalyzer test after thearrest, the person has to spend 24 hours in jail. Even if a person wins the case in court, their license is automatically suspended for refusing to take the test.
“Once a person is booked in, their bond starts out at $1,000,” he said. “It depends on how many offenses the person has had.”
Osteen said a person usually has to hire an attorney because they will have to go to court for a DUI case. Even if it is the person’s first offense, their license is suspended.
“It doesn’t matter what offense it is, your license will be taken away,” he said. “In Alabama the third offense is a felony, and in Georgia the fourth offense is a felony.”
Story By Tess Hollis – Ledger-Enquirer.com
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