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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

Holiday travelers kept Ohio roads safe

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Christmas holiday weekend was among the safest in history for Ohio highways and byways, and Ohio Highway Patrol officials hope to keep that trend going for the New Year's holiday - traditionally a harder-partying weekend than Christmas.

None of the five highway deaths in Ohio last weekend was alcohol-related, the highway patrol announced, and the statewide death toll was less than half of the 12 people killed in Christmas weekend crashes during 2005.

For the New Year's weekend, "We want to see people not drinking and driving, and planning for that designated driver so they get home safely to their families," Lt. Tony Bradshaw, a highway patrol spokesman, said yesterday.

The highway patrol attributed the Christmas safety record in part to an increased number of drunken-driving arrests. State troopers' 383 arrests last weekend for operating a vehicle while impaired was more than 100 higher than in 2005.

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning announced yesterday that extra law-enforcement officers will be on duty during the upcoming weekend, and Lieutenant Bradshaw said the same will be true in Ohio.

"New Year's Eve is known as a party night, but I think people can celebrate and have fun without putting others at risk in a crash," said Michael L.

Prince, the Michigan agency's division director. Southeast Michigan counties participating in the alcohol-enforcement crackdown this year include Hillsdale, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne.

Lieutenant Bradshaw said the Ohio patrol's extra-patrol assignments are made by district and post commanders. The patrol is apprehending more drunken drivers with the same manpower by using computer analyses to identify trouble spots more precisely, he said.

"We are able to make a more concentrated effort with the information that's available to us," the patrol spokesman said.

The African-American Church Call to Buckle Up Project also issued a statement urging sobriety behind the wheel during the holiday, noting that last year in Ohio 45 people died in alcohol-related crashes during the Christmas and New Year's holiday weekends.

For the year through November, state troopers had made 24,051 intoxicated-driving arrests on Ohio roads. Lucas County had the eighth-most among the state's 88 counties, with 592 arrests, though Lieutenant Bradshaw said it is to be expected that the most populous counties would be among the arrest leaders.

Through Dec. 25, the highway patrol reported, 1,191 people had died this year in Ohio traffic crashes, down from 1,312 during the same period of 2005. But most of the improvement occurred outside municipal boundaries, Lieutenant Bradshaw said; the traffic toll in villages and cities so far this year is 378, down just 12 from last year.

"We're trying to help educate people in the urban areas about safer driving, so we can get that number reduced," he said.

Of the five Ohio traffic deaths last weekend, one occurred on a state or federal trunk road, two occurred on interstates, and two occurred on county roads. Eight other people involved in those crashes were injured.

Only once in recent history has Ohio had so few traffic fatalities during the Christmas holiday, the patrol said, and that was in 2002, when Christmas fell on a Wednesday and the reporting period was just 1 1/4 days. This year, the statistical reporting periods for both Christmas and New Year's are four days long.

Several of the Ohio deaths might have been prevented, however, had motorists involved been wearing safety belts, Lieutenant Bradshaw said. Four of the five who died were not secured in their seats.

"Any time that safety belt is not in use, you're not giving yourself the chance to survive," the lieutenant said.

While safety belts might not have saved all four lives, he said, they at least would have improved the odds.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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