Ohio police officers, sheriffs' deputies, and state troopers handed out thousands fewer tickets in 2009 than the year before, but it's not because drivers - Ohioans and visitors - suddenly learned the rules of the road or had a collective attack of conscience. Instead, the most likely explanation is that fewer tickets are being issued because there aren't as many law-enforcement officers patrolling the state's roads.
An analysis by the Dayton Daily News of traffic citation data collected by the Ohio Supreme Court showed that the number of traffic cases heard by county and municipal courts in 2009 declined by 7 percent compared to 2008. Drunken-driving citations were down by about 6.1 percent, while tickets handed out for all other violations fell about 7.2 percent.
It's not because people are driving less - the total miles driven in Ohio actually rose 2.3 percent in 2009 - or have become more careful and courteous. Most officials the newspaper talked to suggested that budget constraints at every level of government have led to layoffs and unpaid furlough days, meaning there simply are fewer eyes watching the roads for wrongdoers.
The Supreme Court data on Toledo and Lucas County citations were incomplete and may have bucked the trend. The Lucas County Sheriff's Office avoided layoffs last year, but the budget ax has fallen five times since June, eliminating 71 positions. Toledo laid off 75 police officers in May of last year, but all of the officers returned to work before the end of 2009.
Some drivers will see in this report an opportunity to ignore traffic rules. That would be a mistake.
State and local governments are battling huge budget deficits. They've cut services to the bone and laid off thousands of workers, including law-enforcement officers. Ohioans can help relieve the strain on remaining resources by slowing down, obeying traffic signs and rules, not driving drunk, and, in general, being more cautious and courteous when they're behind the wheel. They will save lives and reduce injuries at the same time.
It's easy to do the right thing when you're being watched. It takes real character to do what's right when no one can see. Now is a good time for Ohio drivers to show their character.