Two states join forces to prevent wrecks

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

MOBILE COUNTY, AL (WLOX) -  "No one ever wants to see blue lights until they need them," said Johnny Poulos, spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol Monday.

State troopers in Alabama and Mississippi say you can expect to see more blue lights as part of a blitz to keep drivers obeying the law.  It's a week-long initiative called "Take Back Our Highways."  Both agencies are hitting the streets and conducting checkpoints to remind people it pays to slow down, buckle up and be responsible.

They said Monday they believe a simple citation could potentially save a life down the road.

"In Alabama, roughly 65% of our traffic fatalities still involve people who are not wearing a seat belt," said Cpl. Joe Piggott of the Alabama State Trooper's Office.  "Fourty percent still involve people who are drinking and driving. So if we can raise awareness and get people to stop drinking and driving and put their seat belt on, there's no telling how many lives we can save every year."

This week, they're using every bit of their manpower with that goal in mind.

"We took every trooper from every division," said Piggott.  "Every rank in every division, put them on the highway for a week."

The idea started in Alabama in 2007.

"It basically started in 2007 as a result of our increase in traffic fatalities," Piggott said.  "In 2006, when the rest of the nation noticed a slight decrease in traffic fatalities, Alabama realized a 5% increase."

Piggott said traffic fatalities have decreased since the first blitz in 2007.

"In 2007, we realized we saved 62 lives from 2006," Piggott said.  "In 2008, we had 133 fewer traffic fatalities than we did in 2007. And in 2009, we're down again.  So what we know is the program works."

So much so, that Alabama is spreading the idea to neighboring states.  Piggott said Mississippi and Tennessee have been loyal participants in the past, and Florida and Georgia are jumping on board this year.

"Our goal is saving lives, and we want our neighbors to enjoy the fruits of our labor," Piggott said.  "And we want to share those ideas and what we've done and what we've proven to work."

Poulos said the Mississippi Highway Patrol looks forward to this week's campaign.

"We're very pleased about workign with the Alabama Highway Patrol in bringing attention to this effort," Poulos said.  "What people need to realize is we don't like responding to an accident scene. We don't like seeing people hurt.  And we do not like going to people's homes to inform a mother or a father they just lost someone in their family."

Poulos said there have been no major traffic accidents on Mississippi highways since the program started Saturday.  The campaign runs until Friday.

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