Distracted drivers drawing attention

WINTERSVILLE — The Ohio State Highway Patrol will be increasing its presence during this month, stopping drivers who are using a cell phone or otherwise distracted while driving. April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The patrol reported there were 13,727 crashes in Ohio in 2018 that involved one or more drivers that were distracted by something within the vehicle. The patrol reported the crashes took the lives of 51 people and 6,860 people were injured.

Lt. Joseph Fetty, Steubenville post commander, said the post has been allotted additional hours to increase patrols to stop distracted drivers.

Fetty said there were 51 crashes in 2018 in Jefferson County attributed to distracted drivers, with 16 in Harrison County.

Fetty said every time a driver takes his or her eyes off the road, even for just a few seconds, he or she is putting their life and the lives of others in danger. He said sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. It is the equivalent of driving with length of a football field at 55 mph.

Fetty said the patrol located on maps locations where prior distracted driving crashes occurred. He said troopers will be focusing on those areas, including U.S. Route 250 in Harrison County, near Tappan Lake, U.S. Routes 22 in Cadiz and the U.S. Route 22/state Route 7 junction in Steubenville.

“We hope to be successful based on those maps,” Fetty said.

Ohio enacted a law in October increasing the penalty for distracted driving. A person who commits a specific moving violation while distracted, if it is a contributing factor, faces an additional $100 fine.

The $100 fine can be waived it the offender views an online program on distracted driving.

The new law expands the definition of distracted driving, including adjusting the radio, eating or any activity that is not necessary to the operation of a vehicle or impairs the ability to drive safely.

Fetty said distracted driving can be attributed to the amount of electronic devices inside a vehicle today. He said that can include radios and navigation equipment.

Fetty has a simple message for drivers — put down the phone when driving. He said if drivers have to be on the phone, they should use the hands-free option. He also urged drivers to pull off the highway and into a business lot before manually using a phone.