Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Ohio traffic deaths, cases fall, but reasons may differ 

COLUMBUS — Traf­fic cases in Ohio courts have dropped by nearly one-third over the past de­cade, but ex­perts dif­fer on whether driv­ers de­serve much credit.

The state recorded its few­est-ever traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties last year and seat-belt use hit an all-time high of 84 per­cent of all driv­ers and pas­sen­gers.

Drunken-driv­ing cases are down mark­edly, which safety ad­vo­cates hope is ev­i­dence their mes­sage and high-pro­file en­force­ment ef­forts are tak­ing hold.

But Co­lum­bus po­lice say they're is­su­ing fewer speed­ing tick­ets and traf­fic ci­ta­tions for an­other rea­son: They have fewer of­fi­cers. 

Staff­ing in the traf­fic units -- those pa­trol­ling high­ways and in­ves­ti­gat­ing crashes -- dropped dur­ing the city's 2009 bud­get cri­sis and isn't back up to ear­lier lev­els, said Lt. Brent Mull, who heads the traf­fic unit.

Other of­fi­cers in the city's pre­cincts, whose du­ties in­clude traf­fic en­force­ment, have re­sponded to a ris­ing num­ber of calls for ser­vice, Lieu­tenant Mull said, fur­ther cut­ting down on the num­ber of po­lice eyes watch­ing driv­ers on the roads.

Co­lum­bus po­lice is­sued 25 per­cent fewer ci­ta­tions in 2011 than in 2009, ac­cord­ing to an­nual re­ports.

"Time to pa­trol, time to en­force traf­fic laws -- that's the first thing that goes away," Lieu­tenant Mull said.

State­wide, 1.2 mil­lion traf­fic cases were filed in Ohio mu­nic­i­pal and county courts last year, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics com­piled by the Ohio Supreme Court. The num­ber has dropped ev­ery year since 2006, and it's down from al­most 1.8 mil­lion cases in 2002.

Drunken-driv­ing cases are down more than 20 per­cent over the past de­cade, al­though more were filed in 2011 than in 2010.

"Our hope is, [the mes­sage is] start­ing to get through," said Doug Scoles, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ohio chap­ter of Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing. "But we'd like to see a more-steady de­cline."

Frank­lin County Munic­i­pal Court records since 2003 mir­ror the state­wide de­cline in traf­fic cases. Al­most 134,000 cases were filed nearly a de­cade ago, and more than 91,000 were filed in 2011.

The num­bers in­clude all traf­fic cases sent to court, in­clud­ing peo­ple charged in fa­tal crashes, drunken driv­ers, and speed­ing tick­ets. Court of­fi­cials said cases are tal­lied whether mo­tor­ists pay fines on­line or chal­lenge them in per­son, so the de­cline isn't be­cause fewer peo­ple are con­test­ing traf­fic ci­ta­tions.

Fewer are, though. 

The court statis­tics show that, state­wide, 3.6 per­cent of peo­ple took their speed­ing tick­ets or other ci­ta­tions to a judge. The per­cent­age of peo­ple who re­quest a jury trial is just 0.1 per­cent. Those fig­ures are down from 4.4 per­cent and 0.5 per­cent 10 years ago.

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