Distracted Driving the focus for highway patrol as holiday travel increases

Graphic provided by the Ohio Governor's Office.

Ohio’s governor says he is directing the highway patrol to focus on distracted drivers this holiday season.

Gov. Mike DeWine cited highway patrol numbers that showed an increase in traffic fatalities in five of the last six years. Distracted driving, he said in a release, is a “major contributing factor” in those fatalities.

“As we launch into one of the busiest travel times of the year, the way we drive will impact how many people are home for the holidays and how many people ring in the new year,” DeWine said in a statement.

More than 91,000 distracted driving crashes have happened in Ohio since 2013, resulting in more than 47,000 injuries. In that same period, 305 people were killed, according to the state patrol data.

Young drivers represented the highest number of distracted driving crashes since between 2013 and 2018, with the 16 to 20 age group ranking at the top of the list.

Under Ohio law, using an “electronic wireless communications” device while driving is a minor misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $150 fine. Ohio residents younger than 18 can face a $150 along with a 60-day license suspension.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is also displaying messages on their electronic signs to promote safe driving as the holiday traveling season continues.

“The vast majority of traffic deaths in Ohio are completely preventable,” said ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks in a statement. “While we engineer roads to be as safe as possible, the one thing we cannot control is driver behavior. We’re urging drivers to put down the phone, buckle up, drive sober, and obey the speed limit.”

A Saturday sign said “deck the halls, no phone calls, fa la la la la,” and a Sunday sign referenced the 1983 film “A Christmas Story,” with “drop the phone, we triple dog dare you.”