The Associated Press
CINCINNATI - Ohio is on track to finish the year with the lowest total of deaths on state highways in 64 years, a decrease the State Highway Patrol attributes to aggressive action to stop drunken drivers, as well as the use of seat belts and air bags.
So far in 2006, accidents have killed slightly more than 1,200 people, the fewest since 1,331 died in 1942. The state had a population of about 7 million then, compared to today's 11.5 million.
The patrol says a computer modeling system that allows officers to pinpoint areas where the risk of crashes is highest has helped.
“Every time we see a crash happen, we investigate, so we know the likelihood that area could have another one,” patrol spokesman Lt. Tony Bradshaw said. “It's a combination of trying to pinpoint where the next accident could occur, and being out there to reduce and ultimately avoid them.”
Crash deaths dropped dramatically in rural, unincorporated parts of Ohio, where there had been 817 as of Thursday, compared to 925 in 2005. A smaller decrease occurred in urban areas, from 390 in 2005 to 384.
Bradshaw said authorities have been conducting more frequent checkpoints to look for drunken drivers, and the state expects to top last year's arrest count of 25,125. Troopers had made more than 24,000 drunken driving arrests by the end of November.
Franklin County, which includes Columbus, led the state with 800 arrests, followed by Lorain County in northeast Ohio with 768. But troopers don't patrol Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland. If the arrests by the county's local police departments were added together, Cuyahoga would rank near the top, patrol spokesman Sgt. Brett Gockstetter said.
The computer modeling system has allowed authorities to figure out where crashes are most likely to happen. The patrol, with help from Ohio State University statisticians, analyzed five years' worth of serious and fatal crashes involving impaired drivers over the Christmas and New Year's holidays to identify the 25 most likely spots for holiday drunken driving accidents.
They include a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in Cuyahoga County, two sections of Interstate 270, which loops around Columbus, and Interstate 75 from the Ohio River to five miles north in Cincinnati.
To try to decrease crashes, Cincinnati also has beefed up its traffic unit, adding an analyst to create monthly reports that police commanders can use when picking sites for traffic enforcement, Police Capt. Dan Gerard said. The reports include peak times for accidents, the top 10 percent of problem areas and explain the accidents' causes.