When drivers are out on the road, their focus and field of vision needs to be on the road ahead, said Georgia State Patrol Sgt. 1st Class Chris Nease.
Nease, the commander of GSP Post 42 in Rincon, emphasized to Rotary Club of Effingham members that motorists need to give 100 percent of their attention to what’s in front of them. Nease pointed out that traffic fatalities in Georgia were up nearly 25 percent last year over 2014.
“That affects everybody,” he said. “A fatal crash does not discriminate, not your color, who you pray to, how much money you make.”
According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 1,427 killed in accidents on Georgia roads and highways last year. Already this year, there have been more than 440 fatalities.
Last year’s total was the most since there 1,508 fatalities since 2008. There were 1,170 in 2014.
Of the road deaths in 2015, 47 percent were single-vehicle crashes and 65 percent involved a driver failing to maintain a lane.
Nease said one problem troopers see more and more is tired drivers, and the actions of a car operated by a tired driver can look like those of one driven by a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The state DOT reports that 74 percent of fatalities in 2015 stemmed from driver behavior.
“Today we have more distractions,” Nease said, “and one big distraction is fatigue. I’ve stopped many cars, pulled them over for just being tired. They’re nodding off.”
Nease said the State Patrol tries hard to reduce crashes.
“Traffic enforcement isn’t about punishment and writing tickets,” he said. “The biggest thing for enforcement is education. Everything we do is for public safety.”
Nease also dispelled the notion that troopers are encouraged to write tickets.
“We probably write twice as many warnings as tickets,” he said, “so it’s not all tickets.”
The State Patrol is short-handed across the state. Nease has seven troopers to cover Effingham, Bryan and Chatham counties, covering a populace of 380,000 and 1,500 square miles.
“We have a very good group of guys,” he said. “We’ll do anything we can with what we’ve got.”
Nease acknowledged state lawmakers and the governor are working to increase the GSP’s manpower.
“It’s going to take time,” he said.
State troopers do more than just patrol the highways and roads, Nease noted. They also investigate crashes — handling nearly all fatal and serious injury wrecks in Effingham County — and assist agencies who request help. There were 132 troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance officers tasked to help local law enforcement with St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah.
State troopers also provide security for dignitaries around the state and those who visit Georgia. Troopers also aid other states in promotion boards for those states’ troopers. Nease also pointed out many troopers were sent to Waycross during forest fires there to block roads and prevent drivers from piloting through vehicles through the smoke and flames.
“There’s a huge gamut of things we do that people don’t see,” Nease said. “There’s a lot more that goes with the State Patrol that people don’t see.”
Troopers don’t ordinarily respond to 911 calls, since those are directed to and handled by local agencies, but the State Patrol has a good working relationship with local law enforcement arms, Nease said. Troopers also try to make sure a traffic accident is secure and safe for emergency crews while maintaining the flow of traffic.
“We get the road cleared up as quickly as we can,” he said. “The longer the road stays blocked, there’s a better chance of an accident happening.”