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Patrol urges safe holiday driving

Thanksgiving long weekend traffic fatalities have fallen past few years

The Ohio State Highway Patrol wants motorists to wear their seat belt, drive carefully in snow, avoid drinking and let their passengers use the mobile phone during your Thanksgiving travel.

The OSHP said Ohio traffic fatalities over the past three years have dropped during the five-day holiday reporting period, from 20 in 2009 to 18 in 2010 to 17 in 2011 to 12 last year.

“We’re just trying to keep fatalities down this weekend,” said OSHP Sgt. Vincent Shirey. “We want to continue that downward trend, hopefully, this weekend. It would be nice to see nobody killed over the holiday weekend.”

Thanksgiving 2012 was tied with Memorial Day 2012 with seven of the 12 deaths related to alcohol, four of which came in a one-car crash in Warren County. Four young adults died after being ejected from a one-vehicle crash. None were wearing a seat belt.

The patrol arrested 459 drivers for operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol during last year’s Thanksgiving weekend. The patrol and other agencies will conduct OVI checkpoints in various locations. Motorists can contact the patrol by calling #677 to report drug activity or impaired drivers.

“We all share the responsibility of contributing to a safe holiday on Ohio roadways by obeying all traffic laws and never driving impaired,” said Colonel Paul A. Pride, the OSHP’s new superintendent. “As a member of the motoring public, you can help save lives by reporting unsafe and aggressive drivers to law enforcement.”

Weather could impact travel

AAA predicts 43.4 million Americans, including 1.7 million Ohioans, will travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday, the national number down 1.5 percent from last year. The patrol expects traffic to increase Wednesday afternoon and wintry weather could play a role in road conditions.

The National Weather Service has issued numerous winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings from Tennessee to Maine. The storm system is expected to continue through Wednesday morning and could present hazardous driving conditions for Thanksgiving travelers trying to head east or southeast from the Dayton area.

An advisory is in effect until 9 a.m. Wednesday for much of central Ohio, calling for 2 to 4 inches of snow. A winter storm warning also is in effect until 9 a.m. for much of eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and New York. Up to six inches of snow is expected in those areas. Storm Center 7 Meteorologist Rich Wirdzek said icy roads could be a factor until mid-morning.

“You want to drive for what’s allowable with the conditions, whether it be snow, rain, sleet,” said Shirey, who said drivers should check all fluid levels, include an emergency kit and have maps whether or not they use GPS. “Watching your stopping distances. Keep a clear distance from the vehicle in front of you so you have a good braking distance so you don’t strike the vehicle in front of you.

“Don’t drive distracted. If you have to make a call, we tell people to hand it off to a passenger and let them make the call or pull over if you can to a safe location to make any type of call or send any messages.”

The Ohio Dept. of Transportation has suspended construction work during the holiday, but Interstate 75 still has projects that could impact travel through Dayton and Piqua. In Dayton, three lanes will be open for southbound drivers and two lanes will be available for northbound motorists. In Piqua near U.S. 36, two lanes will remain open in both directions.

“The best defense for preventing crashes, injuries and fatalities is avoiding distracted driving, wearing your seat belt and not drinking and driving,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray.

Traffic deaths down statewide

At current pace, the number of people killed on Ohio’s roadways will be fewer than 1,000, the first time that could happen since the Ohio State Highway Patrol began tracking the statistic in 1936.

Through Nov. 26, the OSHP said 888 confirmed and provisional fatalities have occurred during 805 incidents. The lowest yearly death number was 1,016 in 2011, which was followed by a jump to 1,122 deaths in 2012. At this time last year, there had been 1,040 confirmed fatalities on Ohio’s roads.

Shirey said having the OSHP’s staff level up to normal for the first time in years has helped.

“We’re up to full speed and I think that’s helped contribute to the fact that fatals are going down,” he said. “It’s just awareness, education and enforcement are the main three things.”

Among counties in the area, only Montgomery County has seen a big increase in traffic fatalities in 2013, with eight more than at this stage last year. Greene County is down 12 deaths compared to this time in 2012. Preble and Darke down 10 fatalities each, Warren and Butler down eight apiece, Miami is down two and Clark is even compared to last year.

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