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Police in Bailey, Middlesex and Spring Hope on lookout for drunken drivers over holiday weekend

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Southern Nash County authorities will be heavily involved in this July 4 holiday weekend’s annual drunken driver enforcement event, Operation Firecracker.

“We participate in every GHSP event,” said Bailey Police Chief Steve Boraski.

GHSP stands for the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, which sponsors several “Booze It & Lose It” traffic safety campaigns throughout the year, usually focused on holidays when drunken driving is more likely. 

Spring Hope Police Chief Nathan Gant and Middlesex Police Chief Mike Collins said their officers are participating with Collins, adding that extra patrols could pop up at any time.

This year, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program is asking motorists to raise awareness and support for sober driving by adorning their vehicles with the hashtag #KeysFreeNC in chalk. 

To avoid being arrested or causing a crash, people who drink alcohol should rely on a designated driver, call a friend, use a rideshare service or take a cab home, said Andrew Barksdale, a spokesman covering Nash County for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Historically, drunken driving accounts for nearly a third of vehicle-related fatalities across North Carolina. It accounted for 29% of motor vehicle traffic deaths, or 10,511 deaths, in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“On the Fourth of July, more cars will be on the roads at night than during a typical summer evening,” said Miracle King, a communications specialist with the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

Nationwide in 2018, 193 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes during the July 4 holiday period, from 6 p.m. July 3 to 5:59 a.m. July 5, with 40%, or 78, of those fatalities occurring in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes.

Operation Firecracker kicked off Monday at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point with a procession of vehicles driven by local law enforcement agencies, military personnel and first responders. Authorities wanted to raise awareness and urge folks to drive sober this Fourth of July weekend.

State transportation officials have announced most lane closures will be suspended over the holiday weekend to ease expected traffic congestion.

“The state will temporarily suspend most highway construction projects that cause lane closures to help reduce the anticipated influx of traffic over the July 4 holiday weekend,” Barksdale said.

At some locations, the type of construction or the status of the project requires lane closures to remain in place for safety reasons, Barksdale said.

Locally, that’s the U.S. 301 bypass from May Drive to Benvenue Road in Rocky Mount and Interstate 795 from the Wilson County line to the Wayne County line, according to an update from transportation officials.

A section of South Halifax Road in Rocky Mount also remains closed after last week’s storms damaged an underground culvert, forming a hole underneath the pavement, said Randy Davis, the department’s bridge engineer for Highway Division 4.

“We are waiting for the water to recede so we can go inside the culvert and fully inspect the damage and then determine a repair schedule,” Davis said late last week.

Drivers can check the status of any route they plan to take in advance by visiting DriveNC.gov. 

The NCDOT encourages drivers to follow these safety tips:

• Leave early. Travel at non-peak hours and use alternative routes to avoid the heaviest traffic congestion.

• Stay alert. Even when work is paused, motorists may encounter narrowed lanes, shifts in traffic and lower speed limits through work zones.

• Be patient.

• Don’t drive drowsy. For extended drives, take frequent breaks to remain alert.

• Don’t drive distracted. When drivers are not focused on the road, they react slowly to traffic conditions and are more likely to be involved in a crash.