Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Ohio Patrol says many of this year’s 312 victims weren’t using seat belts.
By Mark Gokavi, Staff Writer, Dayton Daily News
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
More people are dying on Ohio roads at a significantly higher rate in the first four months of this year after a record-low number of traffic deaths last year.
The 16.4 percent rise in statewide traffic fatalities in the first third of 2012 comes despite the Ohio Highway Patrol cracking down on drunk driving and seat belt and felony drug violations.
Plus, the six-county area of Montgomery, Warren, Butler, Preble, Darke and Miami has seen 24 more traffic fatalities — many not wearing seat belts — than during the same period in 2011. Those numbers don’t yet include a recent double fatality in Butler County or a late-April fatal in Greene County.
“Fatals are a difficult thing for us to curb,” said OHP Lt. Matt Hamilton of the Warren County Post. “We’re aggressive in OVI (Operating a Vehicle while under the Influence of drugs or alcohol) and seat belt enforcement so if that crash does happen, they have the best chance that they have to survive.”
Statewide, provisional OHP statistics show there have been 312 fatalities (from 275 crashes) through four months in 2012.
That number was 268 in 2011, which became the lowest auto-related fatality year (1,020 deaths from 947 accidents) in Ohio history and also the lowest nationally.
A national highway safety advocate said Ohio lacks leadership and commitment to strengthen laws. Jackie Gillan, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said Ohio is among the worst eight states in that organization’s annual report.
“Ohio is at the bottom of the barrel because they are lacking so many critical laws like primary enforcement of seat belt, all-rider motorcycle helmet laws, they don’t have major elements of an important teen driving law, they have weak drunk-driving laws,” Gillan said.
Gillan’s organization supports limits for teen drivers such as night-time and cellphone restrictions, and 16 as the minimum age for learner’s permits. In Ohio, most drunk-driving crimes are misdemeanors unless drivers have multiple offenses.
Most dead weren’t wearing belts
Of the 38 deaths in those six local counties through April that did not involve pedestrians or motorcycles, at least 25 were not wearing seat belts. In four more cases it’s unknown if seat belts were used. The causes of the crashes range from people falling asleep to driving left of center to alcohol-related and excessive speed.
“There’s crashes and it’s people being ejected out of the vehicle and the crashed car, in the compartment, there isn’t any real intrusion or trees or poles or anything, it’s just a damaged car,” said Sgt. Jeff Kramer of the post that serves Montgomery County. “But not having their safety belt on they get ejected out of the windshield or something like that and then the car rolls over on them.
“I don’t know for sure that they’d be alive had they worn their seat belt, (but) probably there’s a good chance the injuries would be minimal and not fatal. We see this time and time and time again. It’s just a simple thing of clicking your seat belt.”
Despite seat belt infractions being a secondary offense, enforcement also is up 16.4 percent in Ohio overall and much higher in some counties.
In Montgomery County, seat belt enforcement is up 64.7 percent — 799 in 2012 versus 485 in the same time frame last year. In Greene County, seat belt tickets are up nearly 70 percent. In Warren County, those numbers are up 44 percent. And in Miami County, troopers have enforced seat belt infractions 511 times, up from 267 in that period last year — a 91.4 percent increase.
“We’ve had four fatal (crashes) with four dead,” said Sgt. Vee Witcher of the Piqua Post. “None were wearing seat belts, so that’s why we’re cracking belts.”
Gillan said an unbuckled seat belt should be a primary reason to pull someone over.
“We know that wearing a seat belt is one of the most important things you can do to protect you and your family,” Gillan said. “So why are we tying the hands of law enforcement so that they can only enforce the law if they see someone doing something else that’s equally or more dangerous?”
All enforcement increasing
Statewide, troopers made more than 24,000 additional enforcement stops from January through April compared to this time in 2011 — an increase of 16.3 percent.
Drug violations were up 32.8 percent, felony arrests up 18.1 percent, misdemeanor summons up 36.1 percent and commercial vehicle enforcement up 19.6 percent, among others.
“The new leadership in the Highway Patrol is a big part of this. We’re refocusing our efforts on the things that the public find most important,” Hamilton said of Col. John Born, who took over in 2011 as the OHP’s superintendent.
The “Trooper Shield” initiative was introduced in 2011 and continues to pick up steam in 2012. Officials say Born wants criminal patrol to be as important as traffic enforcement.
“If you drink and drive, we’re looking for you. If you’re hauling drugs on our roads, we’re looking for you,” said Sgt. Anthony Lauer of the post that serves Greene County. “And bottom line is a seat belt is going to save your life. That’s where you’re seeing an increase in those numbers.”
In Greene County, that mentality has translated into much higher numbers of OVI violations (29 percent) and drug violations (30 from 11). In Warren County, OVIs are up 26 percent and commercial vehicle violations (tied mainly to construction zones on I-71 and I-75) are up 55 percent.
In Miami County, overall enforcement stops are up 64.7 percent — from 1,262 in the same time frame last year to 2,112 this year. In Montgomery County, some felony and drug violations are down, but overall enforcement stops are up 36 percent.
“Trooper Shield is kind of a new phrase that the patrol has been using, adopted by our Col. John Born,” Kramer said. “The premise is getting in the minds of the troopers, ‘What will you do today to contribute to a safer Ohio?’ ”
Kramer said the OHP will keep finding violations, especially during the Prom, Memorial Day and graduation season. But troopers can’t put on seat belts, which he said is the best defense in a crash: “It’s all in their hands when they make that decision.”
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Distracted driving latest focus of annual mock crash
MARION - Mock crashes in the spring are as much the norm for high schools as their proms and graduations.
Once a message not to drink and drive, they are now used as a tool against distracted driving as well.
The Marion post of the Ohio Highway Patrol staged a mock crash attended by students from Elgin, Marion Catholic, Pleasant and Ridgedale high schools Monday morning at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Firefighters from the Marion City and Marion Township fire departments worked together to free "victims" from vehicles using the Jaws of Life and saws.
Students portrayed the victims. Ridgedale's Samantha Burns was the fatality, on the ground covered in a white sheet. Highway patrol trooper Ben Addy gave the safe-driving speech, walking through the grandstand and talking to students with the crash scene in the background.
He shared some stories, including one in which two family members died in a crash caused by a distracted driver trying to pass a semitrailer.
"That vehicle is a missile," Addy said, recalling something a past post commander used to say about the dangers of unsafe driving. "We are hoping you guys will listen to us."
Distracted driving has become part of the talk of law enforcement as they educate teens about the consequences of unsafe driving.
Lt. Lance Shearer, commander of the patrol's Marion post, said dangers include texting and driving as well as changing the radio or eating while driving. He said distracted driving is a huge issue of concern when it comes to causes of avoidable crashes.
"You know kids are doing it," he said.
A Pew Internet and American Life survey completed in 2009 found that 34 percent of 16- and 17-year-old teen texter respondents said they had texted while driving. The report estimated that about 26 percent of all American teens ages 16 to 17 text while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 16 percent of fatal crashes and 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. Sixteen percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reportedly distracted while driving.
As far as dangers, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study stated that sending or receiving a text takes the driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that would be the same as driving the length of a football field blind.
The issue has been discussed in the Legislature. The Ohio Senate recently passed a bill that would ban texting while driving. The bill, which must be approved by the Ohio House, would make texting and driving a primary offense for teens younger than 18.
That means law enforcement could pull teens over for the offense without spotting any other offenses and teens could face a 60-day license suspension for a first offense.
Ridgedale student Hannah Loper said she volunteered to portray a crash victim because it sounded like fun and teaches teens not to text and drive. She and other students agreed that it is a problem.
While talking about distracted driving, troopers also lectured against the dangers of drinking and driving. Addy told students not to drink considering they are underage, but added that if they do, to only do so in moderation and not drive for any reason.
He talked about the scenes that first responders come across as he referred to an area of broken glass on a van's windshield. That area, he said, is commonly caused by the head of a driver not wearing a seat belt.
"A lot of times you will find hair, skin, blood right in the windshield," he said.
Student volunteers described their experience as interesting but a bit uncomfortable.
"I think the Jaws of Life is pretty scary," said Loper, who portrayed the driver of a car involved in the crash. She sat with a sheet over her as firefighters cut off and removed the car's top.
"It was a new experience but scary at the same time," she said. "The saw is by your head."
Burns spent the entire time lying on the ground as if she was dead. A firefighter laid a sheet over her and continued to the car as he and others worked to free victims.
Addy explained that first responders focus on the living because that's who they can still help.
"I thought it was pretty scary," Burns said. "I was supposed to be dead. They said, 'She's dead. Don't worry about her.'"
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Thursday, May 3, 2012
COLUMBUS — Even as some members conceded that they are as guilty as anyone, the Ohio Senate voted 25-8 across party lines today to make Ohio the 38th state to criminalize texting while driving.
They also went a step further to prohibit teen drivers from operating or programming a cell phone, portable computer, directional device, or any other electronic device while driving.
An adult who texts and drives would be guilty of a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $150. Like Ohio’s mandatory seat belt law, it would be a secondary offense requiring police to have another reason for pulling the driver over.
But for the teen under the age of 18 who violates the broader ban on electronic devices, it would be a primary offense, meaning police would need no other reason for the traffic stop. The first offense could lead to a $150 fine and a 60-day license suspension. The second would carry a $300 fine and one-year suspension.
Sen. John Eklund (R., Chardon) pointed to a previously enacted law that made it illegal for a teen driver to have more than one non-family passenger in his vehicle as evidence that curbing driver distractions saves lives.
“Over the course of three years, a 26 percent reduction in the number of fatalities of that group of drivers in the state of Ohio… by removing a distraction,’’ he said. “There is nobody in this room who would suggest that the use of these gizmos is not a distraction…
“When this bill passes, don’t violate the law,’’ Mr. Eklund said. “It’s really very simple, and you’re not then going to be called a hypocrite.’’
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont) and Nancy Garland (D., New Albany), overwhelmingly passed the Ohio House last year but without the more restrictive provisions applying to teen drivers. Mr. Damschroder introduced it after a newly licensed 16-year-old girl in his district, while texting, crossed the center line and killed a motorcyclist headed in the opposite direction.
Some opponents of the bill, however, argued that it infringes on individual rights while including so many exceptions as to render it unenforceable.
“There are 10 exemptions for adult drivers to utilize electronic devices behind the wheel…,’’ said Sen. Capri Cafaro (D., Hubbard). “This definition (of “texting’’) basically says that… I can use my phone to read the newspaper, play games, and write myself a note because it’s not an e-mail, a text message, or instant message. I certainly don’t feel that this bill fulfills the objective that it sets out to achieve.’’
Among members representing northwest Ohio, the bill drew support from Sens. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), Cliff Hite (R., Findlay), and David Burke (R., Marysville). The sole northwest vote in opposition was cast by Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), who offered an unsuccessful amendment to make it more restrictive.
“Instead of Ohio passing a controversial law with exemptions and possible loopholes, why don’t we pass meaningful legislation that requires all communication while driving in Ohio to be totally hands free,’’ she said.
The bill now returns to the House for approval of the Senate changes. It would not override more stringent ordinances enacted in local communities. The texting ban in Toledo, for instance, carries a fine of $1,000 plus six months in jail.
Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) argued that having state and local laws could lead to a driver being punished twice for the same activity.