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July 18, 2017 12:00 PM, EDT

Speeding Crackdown Targets High-Risk Routes in Southeast

Maggi Gunnels, Harris Blackwood Gunnels, Blackwood by Tennessee Highway Safety Office

State and local law enforcement officers from five Southeastern states are out in large numbers in a special enforcement operation primarily looking for trucks and cars speeding on highways and interstates.

The July 17-23 beefed-up enforcement effort, “Operation Southern Shield,” is funded by a special grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The purpose of “Operation Southern Shield” is to increase enforcement during this heavy vacation travel period when the rate of fatal crashes is highest throughout the Southeast, primarily targeting the region’s major highways and high-risk locations.

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee are participating in the effort.

For more than two decades speeding has been involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities, according to NHTSA research.

In 2014, speeding was a contributing factor in 28% of all fatal crashes, and 9,262 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes, the agency said.

In Tennessee, the number of speed-related fatalities increased by about 8% from 2012 to 2015, according to the Tennessee Integrated Traffic Analysis Network.

And in Georgia, NHTSA said, the number of speed-related fatalities increased nearly 50% during the same time period.

During a July 17 news conference kicking off the event in Georgia, NHTSA Associate Administrator Maggi Gunnels called the speeding enforcement operation “one of the first of it’s kind in the United States.”

“If this isn’t a public health problem, I don’t know what is,” Gunnels said. “I strongly encourage everyone to slow down.”

Harris Blackwood, directer of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said some of the heavy enforcement corridors will include Interstate 20 from Florence, S.C., to the Mississippi state line; I-75 from the Kentucky-Tennessee border to South Florida; and I-95 from the Virginia state line to the Miami area.

In 2015, 48,613 drivers were involved in 32,166 fatal crashes, in which 35,092 people lost their lives, NHTSA said. Of that total, 18% of the drivers involved were speeding, and 27% of those killed were in a crash involving at least one speeding driver.

The consequences of speeding are far-ranging, according to NHTSA. They include a greater potential for loss of vehicle control, reduced effectiveness of occupant protection equipment, increased stopping distance after the driver perceives a danger, increased degree of crash severity leading to more severe injuries and increased fuel consumption/cost.

“Avoid having your summer vacation end with a tragedy because you made the choice to speed,” Tennessee Highway Safety Office Director Vic Donoho said. “We want everyone to make it to their destinations safely. Our law enforcement partners will exercise a zero tolerance for speeding drivers. If you’re caught speeding, you will be ticketed.”

During the operation, THSO will increase speed-related messaging to promote awareness and education.