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Ohio Distracted Driving Deaths Up; Family Members Raise Awareness

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Monday, April 10, 2023   

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and in Ohio, fatal accidents caused by distracted drivers are on the rise.

Deaths in 2021 reached their highest point in nearly two decades, topping 1,300, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Stefanie Easley, a resident of Fairfield, started the Erica Easley Foundation in 2022 to raise awareness about distracted driving, after her older sister Erica was killed in a car accident on Interstate 75. She said a passenger asked the driver to take a look at 'Snapchat,' and when the driver turned his head, the vehicle hit a highway railing, killing three of five passengers.

"Pause and think about the decision you're about to make before you make it," Easley urged. "Because of a split second, a little Snapchat, my sister was killed instantly."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sending or reading a text takes the driver's eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, research shows it is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.

This year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 288 into law, which strengthens state laws on using electronic devices while driving.

Kara Hitchens, public affairs manager for AAA-Ohio, said the law went into effect last week, and it is now illegal in most circumstances for anyone in Ohio to use or hold a cellphone when they are behind the wheel.

"Previously, it was a secondary offense; you could not be stopped for that offense alone," Hitchens explained. "Now, law enforcement will be able to stop those drivers that they suspect are distracted by their electronic devices."

Easley added cellphones are not the only distractions. Having conversations with other passengers, messing with the vehicle's radio or navigation systems, eating or drinking, searching for items; all take a person's eyes and focus off the road.

"On your next commute, put your phone on Do Not Disturb," Easley recommended. "Or make sure you set your radio and don't touch it 'til you get to your destination. Small things."

More than 40% of Ohio drivers admit they have made phone calls while driving, and one-quarter say they have texted while driving, according to a recent report by Nationwide Insurance.

Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.


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