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Deaths, speed on rise

Pioneer RESA to study wrecks on rural roads

POSTED: January 14, 2009 4:00 a.m.
Photo/Michele Hester/

Cpl. Eric Johnson of the Dawson County Sheriff's Office estimates he's seen nearly 30 fatal wrecks on rural roads over the last several years.

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Authorities responded to more traffic fatalities in 2008 on Dawson County roads than they had in nearly a decade.

  

While those figures may not be unexpected, given the county’s population increase and the millions of shoppers drawn to the outlet mall on Ga. 400, not one of those 10 deaths occurred on or near the Ga. 400 corridor.

  

The wrecks happened on rural roads where, in most cases, authorities said the drivers were traveling too fast.

  

“I don’t know what to tell you on this,” said Maj. Greg Rowan of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office. “Looking at where the wrecks occurred, nothing seems to link them, except that they were mostly on rural, less traveled roads. And most had speed as a factor.”

  

In an effort to make travel on rural roads safer, a local educational organization plans to study the recent increase in traffic-related deaths in Dawson and 13 other northeast Georgia counties, including Forsyth, Hall and Lumpkin.

  

“I’ve raced too many times from Dawson County to Northeast Georgia Medical Center [in Gainesville] when lives held in the balance,” said former paramedic and firefighter Randall Townley, who serves as a safety coordinator for Pioneer RESA.

  

The organization, which works with 14 school systems on health, safety and educational initiatives, announced last week that it had received $92,000 for the study from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

  

The grant will allow researchers to analyze traffic data such as seat belt use and identify environmental factors that could contribute to rural traffic fatalities, Townley said.

  

Nearly half of those killed in wrecks in Dawson County in 2008 were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from their vehicles, authorities said.

  

“The last fatality in Dawson ... that was an ejection, we know. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt,” Townley said.

  

Timothy Brian Pettyjohn, 19, of Carlton, died Dec. 26 after the 1996 Geo Tracker in which he was riding left the road and hit a tree near Shoal Creek Road and Hwy. 136.

  

“We’re losing over $20 million a year in federal funds for not requiring seat belts for adults in pickup trucks,” said Townley, adding that Georgia is the only state in the nation without that requirement.

  

Townley said the issue of fatalities on rural roads would be better addressed as a health issue rather than highway safety.

  

“The tragic loss of Georgians to traffic crashes devastates families both emotionally and financially and imposes far-reaching societal cost to employers and government agencies as well as public and private insurers,” he said. 

  

A seat belt requirement for pickups could help lower the fatality rate on Georgia roads, Townley said.

  

“I know there are a lot of my friends in Dawson County that are going to be pretty upset with me about wanting the seat belt law,” he said. “But they’ll have to know I love them enough to want them to be safe.”

  

The grant also will fund child passenger seat training for Georgia State Patrol troopers.

 

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