Deadly car accidents up in county

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

Automobile crashes have claimed the lives of three people in Lawrence County since the beginning of the year, five if you count December.

Totaling more than a quarter of last year's 11 fatalities in a little more than a month, the Ohio State Highway Patrol hopes to bring this pace to a halt before more lives are lost.

"Drivers should slow down, buckle up and not drink and drive," said Lt. Carl Roark, commander of Ironton Post of the OSHP. "Those are the three leading factors in preventing fatal crashes."

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Last year's numbers were higher than normal with 10 crashes resulting in the 11 deaths, Roark said. Two cases involved ATV accidents. Based on statistics from the past five years, an average of seven crashes causing eight fatalities occur on Lawrence County roads each year.

"Over half of these fatalities would likely have been prevented if the occupants were wearing safety belts," Roark said. "We are on pace to do even worse this year if we cannot change the trend."

Alcohol was not involved in any of the three fatalities this year. Despite a common misconception, weather was probably not a factor either, he said.

"Honestly, I cannot say weather has contributed to these crashes," he said. "One was a head-on collision where the driver appeared to cross left of center; another appears as if the driver failed to yield. The third was a one-vehicle crash on a rural road, so weather could have contributed to it."

Although safety belts were worn in two of the three January fatalities, Roark does not want these statistics to fool anyone.

"The statistics have not changed over the last 5 years," he said. "If you wear a safety belt and drive at a reasonable speed for the conditions, you greatly increase your chances of surviving an accident."

Roark said he has been working on compiling statistics from all fatal crashes that occurred in the past 5 years to help pinpoint trends.

The post has increased patrol in high-crash areas, such as U.S. 52 and State Route 7 in the eastern part of the county, as one way of addressing the issue.

However, because fatal accidents do not happen in one particular area, it is more difficult to prevent, he said.

"Over the years, target enforcement areas and traffic signals have done well to keep fatalities from happening in the same location," he said. "Now, we need to take that a step farther."

Members of the Highway Patrol will visit high schools to talk about the importance of wearing safety belts, driving responsibly and using designated drivers.

Although still in the planning stages, the Patrol will also be putting together some type of rewards program. A trophy would be passed from school to school, depending on which had the highest percentage of students and visitors wearing their safety belts.