As Chairman of the Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security committee in the Ohio House of Representatives, it was encouraging to see that 2013 was the safest year on our roadways since record keeping began in 1936. There were fewer than 1,000 traffic-related fatalities last year. For comparison’s sake, the high point came in 1969 with 2,778 fatalities in the state.
While we can all take pride in these statistics and should, we can continue to do better. In committee hearings, we have heard many examples of the emotional and financial devastation that families endure when their innocent loved ones are lost in these accidents.
Ohio took an important step in the right direction recently by making texting while driving illegal. It is my hope that this law will cause drivers to think twice about distracting themselves with their phone while behind the wheel. Statistics have shown that texting while driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Furthermore, that law prohibits probationary motorists (those under 18) from using their cell phones and electronic devices at all. This key provision in the law helps protect our youngest and often most vulnerable drivers while encouraging safe activity behind the wheel. Additionally, the Legislature just passed a bill stipulating that drivers move over when possible when our valued ODOT workers are performing their duties on our highways.
Many factors help explain the downtrend in road fatalities. For example, motorists have become much more accustomed to wearing their seat belts. Vehicle manufacturers continue to improve their safety standards. It is especially worth noting the immeasurable contribution of law enforcement, who work hard every day to provide safe roads to the motoring public. They deserve our appreciation and gratitude for the role they play.
While the numbers released in 2013 are a positive development and we should all take pride in this achievement – we can never be happy with nearly 1,000 deaths and we cannot rest on our laurels. This is a time for Ohioans, lawmakers, and law enforcement to take all appropriate measures to continue to lower the number of lives taken away on the road. Whether it be reporting a motorist who appears impaired, making sure the laws on the books are properly enforced, or letting that text message wait until we arrive at our destination, we all have a part to play to make Ohio’s roadways as safe as they can possibly be.