uring fall 2003 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported average interstate speeds in Georgia as the highest recorded in the country. Eighty-five miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone was the norm, not the exception. Behind the scenes in state highway safety, Georgia's most current crash data verified the phenomenon: speed was exceeding impaired drivers as a factor in crash deaths.
Georgia had succeeded before with belts and booze by participating in such high-visibility enforcement campaigns as Click It or Ticket, Operation Zero Tolerance, and You Drink and Drive. You Lose. It should be able to do the same with speed. Georgia was leading the Southeast in safety belt use and lower impaired driver deaths. Yet, despite these positives, Georgia saw its traffic deaths per 100 million-vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increase from 1.47 to 1.58. Data indicated speed must be addressed to lower Georgia's crash death rate.
The challenge facing the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) was how to change Georgia's speed culture without losing the positive momentum already achieved in safety belt and impaired driving education. Law enforcement recognized that little impact on the speed problem would result from a short wave of speed education and enforcement; and it would be difficult to shoehorn speed into an already crowded enforcement schedule. Changing Georgia's speed culture quickly and effectively would require the statewide adoption of truly creative measures.
Fortunately, many citizens already shared a common determination to rein in Georgia's high-speed mentality. GOHS convened a driver focus group and learned that citizens identified "high speed and aggressive driving" as their greatest "Interstate fears." The panel's solution came without hesitation: "Crack down on speeders and aggressive drivers."
Georgia responded with the enforcement strategy GOHS had developed in hopes of getting public backing: a comprehensive DWI, speed, and aggressive driving campaign called Heat (Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic) was already familiar to the Georgia public and the Atlanta media as a groundbreaking enforcement concept.
Now, Heat would coordinate all Georgia law enforcement agencies in a statewide mobilization against DWI, speed, and aggressive driving.
Heat would bridge the highway safety enforcement gap between the spring safety belt mobilization and the DWI initiative in the fall. It was enforcement officers who named the new campaign "100 Days of Summer Heat" and gave it wide support across Georgia's 159 counties. GOHS used planning meetings with 16 law enforcement networks to develop the campaign schedule and strategy, then provided updates through a state traffic enforcement e-mail lists and GOHS Web site.
100 Days of Summer Heat
The Summer Heat strategy was constructed in layers to maximize earned media coverage, provoke public discussion, and generate enthusiasm in law enforcement. Enforcement began on metro Atlanta interstate highways, spread into state highway secondary corridors, onto interstate corridors, and finally across state lines as part of the Southeast region's Hands across the Border project.
Heat kept Georgia drivers talking about the high-profile enforcement all summer long as it overlapped NHTSA's three national highway safety mobilizations. At a kickoff news conference in Atlanta, TV reporters broadcast dramatic live shots from a bridge covered in empty white chairs that signified Georgia's 1,600 annual traffic deaths. GOHS ran a saturation campaign airing constant Summer Heat advisories on paid radio, TV, and cable ads.
When the official Summer Heat reporting period ended, Georgia officers had written almost 650,000 citations overall. More than 15,000 were DWIs. Speeding tickets exceeded 220,000 and officers cited 60,000 safety belt violators.
Summer Heat had yielded a 14 percent reduction in overall fatalities compared to the previous year, accompanied by a significant drop in holiday deaths. In 2004 GOHS put the Heat on speed in Georgia without diluting the success of its safety belt and DWI campaigns. ■