Drivers who have been putting the pedal to the metal during the COVID-19 pandemic need to hit the brakes or expect to see blue lights in the rear view mirror now that the "Operation Southern Shield" speed enforcement and awareness campaign has begun.This year's "Southern Shield" campaign reinforces the message on the dangers of driving above the legal speed limit as fewer vehicles traveling on interstates and major highways during the pandemic have contributed to an increase in speeding in Georgia and across the United States, according to information provided by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.“The sharp decrease in the number of people traveling on our roads during the pandemic has not led to a corresponding drop in the number of traffic deaths according to preliminary data from the Georgia Department of Transportation,” Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Allen Poole said. "The increased speeding this year is further proof driving over the speed limit significantly increases your chances of being in a crash that results in severe or fatal injuries."Preliminary data from the Georgia Department of Transportation shows Southern Shield has saved lives in Georgia in the last three years. When the campaign was held July 15-21 last year, the number of traffic deaths in Georgia was 29 percent lower in the final two weeks of the month compared to the first two. Seventy people were killed in traffic crashes from July 1-14 and 50 from July 15-29.In the first year of the enforcement campaign, Operation Southern Shield reduced traffic deaths in Georgia by 35 percent in 2017 compared to the week before and after the July 17-23 enforcement period. In 2018, the number of traffic deaths in the state was 22 percent lower during Southern Shield week compared to the week after the July 16-22 speed enforcement and awareness campaign.In Georgia, almost one out of every five traffic deaths in 2018 was due to speeding. There were 267 speed-related fatalities in 2018, which was a 25 percent increase over a five-year period. According to NHTSA, speeding has been a factor in almost one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities in the last 20 years. In 2018, speeding killed 9,718 people nationwide. “The objective this week is not to write tickets but to show everyone that driving the speed limit and with your focus on the road saves lives,” Poole said. “That is why Southern Shield has saved lives in its first three years. So many drivers were following the law because they knew state troopers and local law enforcement officers were on patrol. That is why traffic enforcement remains the most effective method to prevent people from being killed in traffic crashes.”
Those traveling in Georgia during Southern Shield week July 20-26 can expect to see state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and police officers enforcing all traffic laws. The goal will be to prevent crashes by stopping motorists who are endangering public safety on Georgia roads by speeding, driving distracted, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and other violations of the state’s traffic laws.