The “Operation Southern Shield” speed enforcement and awareness campaign began Monday.

The southeastern regional campaign returns for a fourth year after reducing traffic deaths in Georgia in the first three years of the week-long enforcement period compared to the week before and after enforcement.

This year’s “Southern Shield” campaign reinforces the message on the dangers of driving above the legal speed limit as fewer vehicles traveling on interstates and major highways during the pandemic have contributed to an increase in speeding.

Preliminary data from the Georgia Department of Transportation shows Southern Shield has saved lives in Georgia in the last three years. During last year’s campaign, the number of traffic deaths in Georgia was 29 percent lower in the final two weeks of the month compared to the first two. Seventy people were killed in traffic crashes from July 1-14 and 50 from July 15-29.

In the first year of the enforcement campaign, Operation Southern Shield reduced traffic deaths in Georgia by 35 percent in 2017 compared to the week before and after the July 17-23 enforcement period. In 2018, the number of traffic deaths in the state was 22 percent lower during Southern Shield week than the week after the July 16-22 speed enforcement and awareness campaign.

In Georgia, almost one out of every five traffic deaths in 2018 was due to speeding. There were 267 speed-related fatalities in 2018, which was a 25 percent increase over five years. According to NHTSA, speeding has been a factor in almost one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities in the last 20 years. In 2018, speeding killed 9,718 people nationwide.

Those traveling in Georgia during Southern Shield week July 20-26 can expect to see state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and police officers enforcing all traffic laws. The goal will be to prevent crashes by stopping motorists endangering public safety on Georgia roads by speeding, driving distracted, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and other violations of the state’s traffic laws.