As families and friends prepare to gather together during the busy holiday travel season, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Ohio State Highway Patrol are utilizing the state’s 130 freeway message signs, as well as portable highway signs, to raise awareness about the growing drugged driving problem in Ohio.
The highway signs will display messaging alerting travelers to the increase in drugged driving crashes. They also urge people to start talking about the drug abuse epidemic, a reference to the state’s Start Talking Initiative that encourages parents and community leaders to talk to their children about the dangers of drug use.
The Portsmouth area, with its well-established addiction problem, is obviously not immune from the problem.
“I think we get between one-half and two-thirds of our impaired drivers that are drugged drivers as opposed to drunk,” Operations Captain Lynn Brewer of the Portsmouth Police Department said.
The numbers are new, but nonetheless startling.
According to ODOT traffic crash statistics, Ohio has seen a 25 percent increase in drugged driving crashes since 2012. There have been 3,574 drugged driving crashes already this year, or about 33 percent of all impaired driving crashes. Driving a vehicle while impaired, whether by alcohol or drugs, puts the driver, passengers, roadside workers, and others who share the road at risk.
“Law enforcement officers, first responders, tow truck drivers and the majority of our workers here at ODOT do their jobs alongside our roads and highways. Their safety is at risk every time someone gets behind the wheel while impaired,” ODOT Director Jerry Wray said. “There is so much that needs to be done to address this problem, but one way we can start is by talking to young people about the dangers of drug use and impaired driving.”
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the effects of specific drugs differ depending on how they act in the brain. For example, marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination. Drivers who have used cocaine or methamphetamine can be aggressive and reckless when driving. Certain kinds of sedatives, called benzodiazepines, can cause dizziness and drowsiness. All of these impairments can lead to vehicle crashes.
“Lives are forever changed when people make the decision to drive after taking drugs,” said Colonel Paul Pride, Patrol Superintendent. “If you see drug activity or impaired driving report it immediately to the Patrol by calling #677.”
Research that shows youth are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs when parents and adults talk with them about substance use and abuse. Governor John R. Kasich and First Lady Karen W. Kasich launched Start Talking! In 2014 to give parents, guardians, educators and community leaders the tools to start the conversation with Ohio’s youth about the importance of living healthy, drug-free lives.
More information about Start Talking is available at: www.StartTalking.Ohio.Gov
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.