WATKINSVILLE, Ga. - The number of wrecks in Oconee County has been steadily increasing. On the first day of school, deputies responded to 7 crashes, many of them, in school zones. They say texting and driving are playing a huge part in these wrecks.
The Oconee County Sheriff says he knew texting and driving was a problem, but he had no idea how big of a problem until his office did a sting. They sat at a busy intersection and wrote ticket after ticket.
Sheriff Scott Berry flips through traffic citations. "These are all texting and driving tickets," he says.
The county has been averaging 180 wrecks a month, a growing number that has the Sheriff's attention. "I started about a year ago, analyzing if there's a way to enforce our way out of this... I'm not sure there is, but it doesn't mean we aren't going to try," Sheriff Berry says.
The first day of school, there were an alarming number of collisions. "Seven car wrecks in less than an hour is unheard of here. It may not be a lot in metro Atlanta, but it's a lot for us and a lot of them were in and near school zones."
Sheriff Berry says texting and driving was to blame for many of them. "We didn't know the extent of the problem. We didn't really have a good handle on the extent of the problem. So we worked with the Georgia State Patrol to set up in two intersections, two busy intersections, but nonetheless, just two and in 3 hours we made 96 traffic stops," explains Sheriff Berry.
Some of those were people who flew through the intersections while playing on their phones. "The people that are driving down the road, trying to respond to an email or trying to send a text, or taking pictures...seriously? In the car, behind the wheel selfie...don't do that!" He urges.
Although many parents were ticketed, the deputies will focus on teen drivers, specifically patrolling during after school hours. "We've warned our teenagers. We've sent messages to all the schools to all the schools with teen drivers, saying...you cannot use the phone in the car. Believe me when I say that, and when we catch you...and we will...we're going to write you a citation," Sheriff Berry says.
He's hoping to send the message, enough is enough. "The State of Georgia, the citizens of Georgia, aren't serious yet and it's not important to you until you lose something because of a distracted driver and when it costs you, then you think about it."
Sheriff Berry points out that MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was a big driving force to reduce drunk driving wrecks. He believes it will take an effort as big to help put in a dent into the distracted driving problem.