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Ohio Traffic Deaths On The Rise

Last year ODOT began cautioning drivers about the rising death toll on Ohio roadways

  Traffic deaths across the U.S. are on the increase. The National Safety Council says deaths in 2015 were up eight percent over the previous year.  But the death rate in Ohio for the same period was several points higher.  Pinpointing the reasons why can be difficult.

One thing’s for sure.  As the economy improves, people drive more.  They have more money to spend and gasoline is relatively cheap.   The more cars on the road, the more crashes, the more injuries and deaths.  Ken Kolosh manages statistics for the National Safety Council.

“We fear we will continue to see increases in motor vehicle fatalities as the economy continues to improve and the mileage increases,” Kolosh says.

It’s happening already across the country.  The Safety Council says last year, more than 38,000 people died on U.S. roads.  That’s an eighth percent increase over the year before. 

“The reason this is so startling is that the eight percent increase, a one-year increase, is the largest percent increase in the last 50 years,” Kolosh says.

Statistics for Ohio are even more alarming.  The NSC says the death rate on Ohio’s roads was up 11 percent from 2014. The Ohio Highway Patrol says more than 1,100 people were killed in 2015.  I asked highway patrol sergeant Vincent Shirey to highlight the major factors that led to those fatalities.

“One third of fatalities are alcohol related. So to me, that’s one third of all fatalities that can be completely avoided if folks just wouldn’t drink and drive,” Shirey says. “In addition to that, safety belts.  Half of all fatal crashes involve an unbelted motorist.  So again, if people would simply buckle up, that could really help and aid in getting those numbers down.”

Distracted driving is another significant cause. The term has come to be associated with the use of smart phones; doing things such as texting.  The patrol’s Shirey gives an illustration.

“If you receive a text and you’re traveling 55 miles an hour on a state route, if you look down at your phone for just about four-and-a half seconds, you’ve traveled the length of a football field in that timeframe so imagine what could happen. Deer could come out, a car could pull out of a driveway – whatever the case might be.  So that’s one of the many reasons people need to focus in on their driving,” he says.

All sorts of behaviors fall under the distracted driving category: putting on makeup, eating, changing the radio station.  It’s harder to gauge the percentage of accidents caused by motorists doing other things while they drive.

The fatalities caused by distracted driving do seem low compared to the total number of deaths – about 60 out of 1,000. 

Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning thinks the incidence of distracted driving is greatly under-reported. 

“Think about it.  If you rear-end somebody because you were texting, are you going to tell the police officer investigating that crash, ‘I’m sorry officer, I was texting and that’s why I hit the person in front of me?’  Probably not.  Unless there was a witness that claims they saw you texting that’s probably going to go unreported,” Bruning says.

Kolosh also suspects the distracted driving numbers are probably a lot higher.

“Some estimates indicate that distraction might be involved anywhere between 18 and 25 percent of all crashes,” Kolosh says.

Even though deaths increased to 1,100 last year, roads are much safer than they were decades ago. Ohio’s worst year was 1969, when nearly 3,000 people died in car accidents.  Of course those were the days before mandatory seat belt laws and air bags.