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State official stresses driver, child safety
Harris Blackwood, director of the Governors Office of Highway Safety, spoke to south Forsyth Rotarians about highway safety. - photo by Jennifer Sami

When it comes to his job, the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety said, the focus is all about belts, booze and babies.

"We want people fastening their seatbelts, and included in that, we want them to put down their cell phones," Harris Blackwood said.

"We don’t want people to drink and drive, that’s a real problem in the state. And we also worry about children … we’ve expanded our booster seat program to include our 6- and 7-year-olds."

Blackwood, a former employee and longtime columnist of the Forsyth County News, took over as office director in January.

Wednesday, he returned to his former stomping grounds at the Rotary Club of South Forsyth to talk about his new role and offer insight into the department.

"I learned a lot," said Rotarian Marcie Kreager, who invited Blackwood to speak. "It was very informative. He’s a wonderful speaker.

"He’s got a great personality and just gave a great presentation."

Blackwood offered some statistics and history of Georgia’s roads.

Each year, about 40,000 people are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Blackwood shared some humorous stories of arrests, but grew serious when he talked about the cases not caught.

In 2008, more than 400 traffic fatalities occurred as the result of alcohol on Georgia roads.

The cost of fatalities in the state, Blackwood said, is about $1.55 billion. Just $17 million of that is medical costs. The rest are lost wages and livelihood, Blackwood said.

While drunk drivers make a conscious decision to get behind the wheel, fatalities involving children often occur from honest oversight.

While 95 percent of parents abide by child safety seat laws, seven out of every 10 seats are not installed properly, Blackwood said.

"We’re working hard to educate parents," he said. "We know that … a child is 69 percent more likely to survive a serious crash in that booster seat."

Blackwood said the department’s goal this year is to certify every Georgia State Patrol trooper as a child passenger safety technician.

"We’re going to do everything in our power to make your children, and make everyone that rides in your car or rides on the highways in the state of Georgia, as safe as possible," he said.