Keeping our roads safe

December 27, 2013


Civitas Media

The state’s top two safety officials probably would offer to try to hold their breath for the rest of the year if it meant Ohio would finish 2013 with fewer than 1,000 traffic fatalities – something that’s never been done in the modern era of automobiles.

But both men, Director John Born of the Ohio Department of Public Safety and Col. Paul Pride with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, are hoping the people of the state will do the heavy lifting.

As of last count, there were 947 fatalities across the state this year with just 12 days remaining to New Year’s Day. Ohio has not been under 1,000 fatalities since 1936, which was the early days of automobile use, Born and Pride said.

The chance to set the record has made this a perfect time to educate motorists about dialing the number 677 – a public safety hot line.

“If you’re on the highway and you see someone driving erratically, either because they’re impaired or maybe even texting, dialing 677 will immediately put you in contact with the closest law-enforcement agency,” said Born

Big blue signs have been placed along the highways reminding motorists about using the number.

“Calling 677 can really serve as a deterrent,” Pride said, adding that it effectively results in more eyes watching out for the safety of others.

The 4 E’s

Alcohol related accidents continue to be the leading cause of motor vehicle deaths, accounting for one-third of all traffic fatalities. On the rise is the number of deaths resulting from people who text and drive.

Excessive speed is also a major factor. That can range from someone driving five miles per hour over the speed limit when roads are icy, to cases like the one involving Andrew Gans, who was driving 125 mph and faster on the Ohio Turnpike near Fremont when he slammed into the back of a minivan, killing the two people inside.

The good news is that traffic fatalities are down considerably from 45 years ago when in 1969, for example, Ohio recorded 2,780 fatalities, Pride said.

The decline is credited to what Born and Pride call “the four E’s:”

enforcement, education, emergency-care improvements, and engineering improvements.

Pride pointed out cars now are built with improved safety in mind. This includes the use of stronger materials in doors and roofs to the inclusion of safety restraints.

“Seat belts that were placed in cars in 1966 have had a tremendous effect in saving lives,” Born said.

Ironically, it was the improved safety measures in cars as well as highway construction that resulted in state legislators increasing the speed limit to 70 mph on interstates and other highways.

Born said it is too early to tell what effect the higher speed limit is having on traffic fatalities. He said it usually takes about two years to determine.

New problems

State troopers make about 1.2 million enforcement contacts annually. However, these no longer center on just speeders and drunks. What starts as a traffic stop now can quickly escalate into a felony arrest, Pride said. This has resulted in troopers now receiving extensive training on how to spot drug dealers and combat, human trafficking.

The need for that was spelled out in June by a report listing felony arrests for the first half of 2013. The numbers were staggering. There were 2,685 felony cases initiated from road side arrests, with 46 percent related to a felony drug charge and nearly 27 percent related to a felony assault charge.

It showed the patrol stopping dangerous drug transports in all but 10 of Ohio’s 88 counties, with the highest numbers in Franklin, Scioto and Cuyahoga counties.

The number of marijuana, cocaine, crack and heroin cases all increased substantially.

During the first six months, reports show troopers have seized:

- more prescription pills with stimulants up 101 percent

- depressants up 87 percent

- hallucinogens up 77 percent when compared to the previous three-year average