Tennessee Interstate Challenge: State expands I-40 Thanksgiving traffic crackdown to include I-75

A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper blocks the road to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base after reports of shots being fired in 2020, in Alcoa, Tenn. (AP Photo/Michael Patrick)
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper blocks the road to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base after reports of shots being fired in 2020, in Alcoa, Tenn. (AP Photo/Michael Patrick)

NASHVILLE — Fair warning to lead foots and boozy drivers: Tennessee safety officials are expanding their traditional "I-40 Challenge" during the Thanksgiving holiday period to go beyond Interstate 40 and include Interstate 75 for stepped-up enforcement for speed and alcohol laws.

The 12-year-old program is now being called the "Tennessee Interstate Challenge."

"We are increasing our manpower, and now we're able to 'spread the love' so to speak," Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Jimmie Johnson said in an interview.

"I-40 was a national campaign," Johnson added. "This year, the colonel made it a Tennessee deal (to include other Tennessee interstates), and we've asked our partners in surrounding states to join in with us also."

Col. Matt Perry is the top-ranking officer with the Highway Patrol.

Tennessee's beefed up Thanksgiving enforcement begins Wednesday and continues until 11:59 p.m. EST Sunday.

Johnson said Georgia and Kentucky law enforcement officials are also in the partnership.

The state is asking local sheriffs and police chiefs to join. Efforts to reach spokespeople for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Chattanooga Police Department were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.

The Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest travel time of the year, according to AAA. That is why the Tennessee Highway Patrol is placing troopers every 10-20 miles on all Tennessee interstates.

"This week, many people are traveling across Tennessee to celebrate and give thanks with their loved ones," Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long said in a news release. "With the Tennessee Interstate Challenge, we are working to prevent crashes and help everyone get home safely."

State officials hope to educate Tennesseans through a public health and safety education campaign: "Don't Let Alcohol Ruin the Holidays."

"Alcohol sales at bars and restaurants are high during the Thanksgiving holidays and even more substantial for retail liquor stores during Christmas and New Year holidays. It's essential to ensure alcohol is served and consumed responsibly," Russell Thomas, executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said in a news release. "Our staff will be working overtime during these holidays to monitor activities at state licensees."

(READ MORE: Sen. Gardenhire introduces bill to revoke entertainment status for Chattanooga's Station Street, charges area 'crime-infested')

Johnson said driving drunk "puts everyone at risk."

"And we will aggressively enforce the state's DUI laws," he added.

A primary goal of the campaign is to reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, with officials saying it is a barrier to treatment.

(READ MORE: State OKs plan for new Moccasin Bend psychiatric hospital)

Department of Safety & Homeland Security officials said that over the 2022 Thanksgiving holiday, the Tennessee Highway Patrol arrested 89 people for suspected DUIs and worked 511 crashes, 14 of which involved fatalities. Of the deaths, 10 were occupant fatalities, and four people were not wearing a seat belt. Four pedestrians, meanwhile, were killed.

Troopers also investigated 36 crashes that were alcohol related. The Highway Patrol issued 469 seat belt citations and 2,575 speeding citations.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-285-9480.

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