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Appreciating drivers: Turnpike, highway patrol host event

NEW SPRINGFIELD — Andrew Lehman and his family had plenty of time to keep themselves occupied on their long driving journey nearly halfway across the country, but two common activities will not be on their to-do-in-the-car list.

“It’s easy to see texting — especially when you see cars swerving around you, especially on phones. You need to stay off them,” said Lehman, of St. Thomas, Pa., who is traveling with his wife, Katie, and 1-year-old twins, Mariah and Michael, to attend a friend’s wedding in Dallas Center, Iowa.

Along the way, the young family stopped at the Mahoning Valley Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike at mile marker 237 to attend a customer appreciation event Friday in the rest area’s main concourse.

Hosting the three-hour gathering were the Ohio Turnpike Infrastructure Commission and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Both entities were on hand to remind motorists to make safe and responsible decisions such as wearing seat belts, being safe and focused at all times and obeying posted speed limits.

The event also cast a spotlight on what the patrol calls “the 100 deadliest days of summer,” the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when a highly concentrated number of crashes tend to occur on Ohio’s roads.

“Memorial Day to Labor Day is the busiest time of year on the roads,” Ferzan Ahmed, the commission’s executive director, noted.

An uptick in traffic too often means an increase in the number of accidents as well as fatal and nonfatal crashes. Adding to the problem is distracted driving, such as sending text messages and talking on the phone, as well as some drivers who travel too fast through construction zones, he explained.

“Unfortunately, we live in a culture of instant gratification and multi-tasking. It’s intentional behavior that is dangerous to yourself and others,” Ahmed said about texting and driving. “Being distracted is not an accident; it’s a choice we make.”

To address such potential safety hazards, the patrol has adopted a zero-tolerance policy regarding speeding, texting and other violations, he added.

Ahmed also reminded people that even though having to slow down in construction areas may pose an inconvenience for some, workers who are dedicated to making roads safer and smoother for motorists also have families and other loved ones.

In addition, it’s vital to view vehicular crashes — especially fatal ones — as tragic situations that cause a ripple effect that extends far beyond those who are injured or killed. They also leave an indelible mark on victims’ family members, friends and loved ones, he said, adding that his agency’s ultimate goal is zero accidents.

“We look at statistics, but it’s not a number. It’s a life,” Ahmed continued.

The 241-mile Ohio Turnpike and many other parts of the state’s highway system also are used by human traffickers who transport underage girls to engage in mainly sex or labor trafficking, Tracy McGinley, a professor at Bowling Green State University’s Firelands campus in Huron, noted.

One of the remaining misconceptions about the crime is that it happens mostly in Taiwan and other far-away places, and that traffickers typically are scary-looking men who drive around to kidnap a victim on the spot, she said.

“Labor trafficking happens in Ohio all the time,” largely in heavily agricultural parts of the state, she explained.

Those who suspect such crimes are advised to avoid approaching traffickers. Instead, they should contact local law enforcement or call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888, she noted.

The event also featured several food vendors, a prize wheel and opportunities to meet state troopers.

On display outside of the plaza were four vintage cruisers, including a 1970 Plymouth Fury and a 1975 Plymouth Gran Fury. Next to one of the vehicles was a sign that listed the names of 41 fallen Ohio troopers who lost their lives between 1935 and 2016.

By the numbers

¯ From Memorial Day to Labor Day last year, 74,961 vehicle crashes occurred on Ohio roads. Of those, 400 were fatal, resulting in 434 deaths.

¯ About 33 percent of fatal crashes in the state took place during this period, and nearly half of all motorcycle crashes occurred during the same time.

¯ About 38 percent of all such crashes during the peak summer driving season were in Lucas, Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Franklin counties, home to Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, respectively.

¯ In 2021, the Ohio State Highway Patrol issued nearly 33,000 citations to motorists traveling 20 mph or more over the speed limit. They also made 5,421 arrests for operating a vehicle while impaired.

SOURCE: Ohio State Highway Patrol

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