For the first time in recorded history, Ohio’s annual tally of deaths in traffic crashes could drop below 1,000 this year. But that will happen only with your help.
Crashes are predictable. They are caused most frequently by impaired drivers, distracted motorists, reckless speeders, and negligent decisions not to wear a safety belt.
Successful enforcement partnerships between the Ohio Department of Public Safety and police officers and sheriffs throughout the state have never been stronger. Attention to the three E’s — education, engineering, and emergency care — have contributed significantly to our progress. Targeting high-crash areas of the state, and the most dangerous traffic violations, allow us to use finite resources more efficiently.
We’ve made great strides in Ohio. Over the past 25 years, we have cut in half the number of fatal crashes involving alcohol.
We have increased safety-belt use to nearly 85 percent. Most recently, we have achieved significant public participation, through the #677 cellular hot line, in reporting suspected impaired drivers and drug activity.
But as Col. Paul Pride, the new superintendent of the Ohio Highway Patrol, said: “If one of the thousand traffic crash deaths was going to be a family member of yours, how hard would you work to prevent it? That’s how hard we need to work.”
Traffic crashes are not the only dangers you can do something about. Many tips about drug loads come from motorists who spot someone apparently using drugs at rest areas, truck stops, or roadside businesses.
This year, state troopers have logged double-digit percentage increases over 2012 in detecting drug and weapons violations and making felony arrests. In all of 2010, troopers seized 22,000 opiate pills and 22 pounds of heroin. This year, troopers have already recovered 43,000 opiate pills and 87 pounds of heroin. These drugs are killing our youth and degrading the quality of life — for those they don’t kill.
Finally, we need your help in identifying suspected cases of human trafficking in our state. Last year, Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order that created the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, to improve our state’s response to the problem.
Human trafficking occurs throughout the state and the nation, but is centered in northwest Ohio. Anti-trafficking legislation sponsored by state Rep. Teresa Fodor (D., Toledo) and others is making a difference.
Still, trafficking is insidious. It’s estimated that each year, more than 1,000 Ohio children a year are victims of trafficking and at least 3,000 more are at risk.
Elizabeth Ranade Janis, Ohio’s anti-trafficking coordinator, says efforts to combat trafficking are working. More than 8,500 state employees, truck drivers, and community members have been trained to detect human trafficking.
Ms. Janis says partnerships formed by the state are starting to get solid numbers on child trafficking cases. Since August, 20 cases of trafficked children have been identified across the state. All of them are girls; the youngest was not even six years old.
Ohio’s interstate highways and geographic network make our state a center of transportation-related activity, whether it’s legitimate business or a criminal enterprise. Much as troopers underwent special training in recent years to recognize the signs of drug trafficking during traffic stops, they now are taught to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking. Many times, the two activities are connected.
About three months after Governor Kasich issued his order last year, two teenage girls were found at a rest area in Bowling Green. They had been abducted in Kentucky and forced to perform sex acts in Michigan.
One of the girls got away. With her help, troopers tracked down the suspect and rescued the other girl. The suspect is serving a prison term, and two young girls now have a better chance in life.
When you see something — whether drug activity or people who appear to be in distress — say something. Call #677 or your local law enforcement agency. Together, we can make Ohio a safer place.
John Born is director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.