By Sam Wildow
TROY — On Wednesday, the Miami County Safe Communities Coalition hosted its Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over kickoff event at the Hobart Nature Preserve in Troy to raise awareness about the dangers of driving impaired. The National Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign runs from Aug. 18 through Sept. 6.
The Miami County Safe Communities Coalition demonstrated how alcohol impacts drivers’ abilities by driving a golf cart through a cone course with drivers wearing the fatal vision goggles, or “drunk goggles,” in the course.
“We’re going to have those on to give people a first hand look at what it’s actually like to drive intoxicated and why it’s important to never drive drunk or to designate a sober driver if you’re going to be drinking,” said Vicky Knisley-Henry, health educator and Safe Communities coordinator with Miami County Public Health.
Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said the Miami County Safe Communities Coalition shows all Miami County law enforcement agencies are unified in respect to enforcing traffic laws and safety.
“We are going to be out. We are going to be enforcing traffic laws,” Duchak said.
Duchak said the county has seen an increase in fatal crashes. Miami County has had 12 fatal crashes since Jan. 1, 2021, and five of those crashes were OVI-related.
He said the biggest complaint he gets as sheriff is drivers speeding, and he asked drivers to slow down and get to their destinations safely. The sheriff’s office will also have an increased presence over Labor Day weekend. The Ohio Traffic Safety Office provides the grants local law enforcement agencies like the Miami County Sheriff’s Office utilize to pay for overtime and other costs related to extra law enforcement.
“We’re unified in this safety effort,” Duchak said.
The COVID-19 pandemic may also be to blame for some of the increase in traffic violations, such as with speeding and road rage.
Paul Humphries, law enforcement liaison with the Ohio Traffic Safety Office, said natural congestion slows down traffic, but when the number of drivers on the road decreased in early 2020, those drivers who remained on the road increased their speeds. With more people returning to the roads this year as restrictions eased and workplaces returned to the office, those drivers did not slow down even though traffic congestion has increased. Humphries said the number of citations the Ohio State Highway Patrol has issued for drivers going over 100 miles per hour is six times as high as it was a few years ago.
Lt. Joseph Gebhart, post commander of the Piqua Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said they have seen an increase in traffic violations, noting they have also noticed how speeds increased during the COVID pandemic when there was less traffic.
“Unfortunately, that trend is still continuing,” Gebhart said. In his 30 years of experience, he said he has never seen as many tickets issued for drivers going over 100 miles per hour as he has now.
“So that becomes really problematic because we do have this increase in traffic,” Gebhart said.
In addition to speeding, people are also driving aggressively, causing a dangerous and stressful environment for other drivers on the road.
“Along with the high speed, you see that aggressive driving, like tailgating, passing on the right, cutting in and out, and that becomes really problematic,” Gebhart said. He added, “The other side effect to that is people are driving aggressive … that causes stress for people that are already stressed. So now you’re seeing that anxiety. You’re seeing road rage.”
He encouraged drivers to take their time and leave a little earlier for their destinations.
“We just need people to be courteous,” Gebhart said.