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Published: 2/18/2014

Slow-driving citations on rise in Columbus

BY RICK ROUAN
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS — Those slow drivers who draw the scorn of speedsters everywhere have been receiving more tickets in Columbus.

Slow-speed citations filed in Franklin County Municipal Court have increased in each of the last five years, but police say officers are not taking aim at drivers who hold up traffic or catching the slowest of the slow by using speed guns.

“We haven’t sent out a directive to say, ‘Step up enforcement on slow speed,’ ” said Lt. Brent Mull, who oversees the Columbus police traffic division.

Since 2009, 1,611 drivers have been cited for driving too slowly in Franklin County.

Court records show that most of the 519 citations issued last year were written under a city ordinance.

A state law also bans slow driving, and the State Highway Patrol wrote 249 tickets for slow speed on state highways last year, said Sgt. Vincent Shirey, a patrol spokesman. That’s up from 193 in 2012.

State law prohibits driving that impedes or blocks the “normal and reasonable movement of traffic” unless it is necessary for safe driving. The local ordinance mirrors that language.

Lieutenant Mull said the spike in citations likely is related to increased efforts to catch impaired drivers, who sometimes drive under the speed limit to avoid detection. In other instances, drivers slow to a near-stop at times because they miss a highway exit, he said.

Either scenario is dangerous, the lieutenant said.

Research from the 1960s shows that driving faster or slower than the speed of traffic is more likely to cause a crash.

Most county court records are incomplete and do not show the speed of the driver or the speed limit where they were stopped.

Municipal court is among those that include both pieces of data; of 242 tickets written in 65 mph zones during the last five years, most were for driving 10 mph or less.

“Too slow can be just as dangerous as too fast,” Lieutenant Mull said. “If you’re doing 65 mph and you come up on traffic or a vehicle that’s only doing, say, half that speed, bad things are going to happen.”

Cab drivers have complained that police target them for driving slowly in areas where they troll for fares when bars close on the weekends.

But police say that most of the slow-driving citations that officers issue to cab drivers occur when they stop to let passengers out in the middle of streets.

Court data do not identify taxis.

“For the most part, it’s little things like they’re not being hailed, and they’re just trolling,” said Cmdr. Bob Strausbaugh.

Habtesus Ocbazghi was picking up fares around Park Street in September, 2012, when a Columbus police cruiser pulled him over for holding up traffic.

Mr. Ocbazghi said someone approached his cab to ask questions and would not leave or get in the taxi.

Taxis stand out to officers, he said, because they have distinctive markings and colors. That makes them more likely to be stopped.

The law requires officers to consider “the capabilities of the vehicle and its operator.” That could shield drivers who break down or blow a tire on the road from being cited for driving too slowly, said Jeff Furbee, chief police legal adviser for the Columbus city attorney’s office.

A slow-driving citation could affect car-insurance rates, said Mary Bonelli, Ohio Insurance Institute spokesman. Slow speed is a moving violation.

“If you’re a slow driver hanging out in the left lane on a freeway, which is traditionally the lane for passing slower-moving vehicles, and you aren’t passing another car, you’re abusing the left lane’s intended purpose,” she wrote in an email.



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