OSHP, ODOT plan use of digital message boards

OHIO VALLEY — As of the last week of June, Ohio has recorded 487 traffic deaths, 76 more in 2015 than at the same time a year ago.

This 19 percent increase has inspired the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Department of Transportation to join forces with a new initiative utilizing ODOT digital message boards to spread traffic safety messages. The messages will be displayed for the first time during the Fourth of July weekend and continue for a trial period.

The 130 permanent boards will rotate between two messages: the year-to-date number of traffic deaths of 2015 and a traffic safety message such as Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. The goal is to motivate motorists to exercise caution while behind the wheel. Most traffic crashes can be prevented if the driver slows down, buckles up or avoided driving impaired.

Traffic deaths were significantly higher during January, February and May of this year compared to 2014. In fact, May 2015 was the worst May for traffic deaths in a decade. The largest increase was among drivers under the age of 25. Fatal crashes involving alcohol tripled and the number of deadly crashes involving people not wearing a seat belt doubled during the month of May.

“This increase in fatalities is unsettling,” Lt. Max Norris, commander of the Gallia/Meigs Post, said. “We hope that by coupling the Patrol’s enforcement with the highly visible ODOT signs, we can impact driver behavior and save some lives.”

OSHP and ODOT chose to partner in time for the July Fourth holiday period, as this weekend typically sees an increase in traffic fatalities and impaired driving. In the four-day 2014 reporting period, 12 people died in 11 fatal crashes. Of those crashes, five were OVI-related, resulting in six deaths. OSHP made 761 OVI arrests.

“Our top priority is always safety,” ODOT Director Jerry Wray said. “Like the Highway Patrol, we are concerned about the increased number of deaths on our roads and highways. These aren’t just statistics, but someone’s father or mother, daughter or son.”

Digital message boards will display these messages 24 hours per day on weekends and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays, unless there is a higher priority message. The boards will update with the new year-to-date number of confirmed deaths every Thursday night. That number is calculated using police reports from agencies statewide, including OSHP. It includes provisional fatalities that have been identified through early warning systems but have not been confirmed.

Gallia County saw one fatal accident in 2014 and two in 2015. Meigs County saw two fatalities in 2014 and 2015, respectively.