Distracted driving

A driver holds a cell phone beside the wheel. Using a cellphone and other distractions while driving has proven to be extremely dangerous, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The dangers of distracted driving continue on Ohio roads even as a new decade dawns.

Lt. Craig Cvetan of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said distracted driving remains a primary cause for traffic accidents on state highways. Since 2014, distracted driving has reportedly caused about 80,000 crashes in Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety considers distracted driving to be any crash in which one or more drivers were distracted by manually operating an electronic communication device (texting or any activity with a device), talking on a hands-free device, talking on hand-held communication device, distraction by a passenger, or other distraction in the vehicle.

In Richland County, there were 100 distracted driving crashes and one fatal distracted driving accident in 2019. Those numbers were 59 in Knox County, 57 in Ashland County and 44 in Crawford County.

"With safer cars, we shouldn't be seeing these numbers," Gov. Mike DeWine said in an Enhanced Efforts for Safer Roadways in Ohio announcement made Dec. 20. "This has been the forth most deadly year for highway traffic this decade."

Cvetan noted these totals are provisional because not all crashes may not be included since the Ohio State Highway Patrol has not compiled all of the state's crashes.

"Every time someone takes their eyes or focus off the road, even for just a few seconds, they put their lives and the lives of others in danger. Distracted driving is unsafe and the consequences can be devastating," Cvetan said.

"We’re asking everyone to make it a New Year’s resolution to put their phones down and limit distractions while driving. Help us make 2020 a safer year on Ohio’s roadways," he said.

He added more enforcement and a monetary fine may have led to less distracted drivers after House Bill 95 was passed in October.

The bill enhanced the penalties for specific moving violations when the driver was distracted. It also contained a provision where the driver could attend a distracted driving safety course in lieu of the enhanced penalty. Since then, troopers have used this new tool to aggressively target distracted driving violations.

This year, troopers have enforced 8,200 distracted driving violations around the state. That is an 800 percent increase over the same time last year.

"Distracted driving is a danger to everyone using the road. Not just the person sending or receiving the text," Cvetan said. "We know that distracted driving is a contributing factor in the rise of Ohio traffic fatalities. Your text can wait, please put your phone down while driving this holiday season and help us protect everyone using our roadways.

"As we move into 2020, troopers will continue to focus enforcement and educational efforts towards, impaired driving, distracted driving and seatbelt usage because we know these three things lead to serious injury and deaths on our roadways."

Dewine said similar things during his Dec. 20 announcement.

"This needs to change," the governor said. "It's a matter of people dying."

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Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.