Ohio fatal crashes rise even as number of drivers on the road falls

The driver of a Porsche drove off the left side of the road in the three thousand block of Springfield-Xenia Road and struck two mailboxes, a fence, two cars and a camper parked in front of a house Monday afternoon. The driver was not injured in the crash that left the Porsche inside the camper.
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The driver of a Porsche drove off the left side of the road in the three thousand block of Springfield-Xenia Road and struck two mailboxes, a fence, two cars and a camper parked in front of a house Monday afternoon. The driver was not injured in the crash that left the Porsche inside the camper.

Credit: Springfield News-Sun

Even as fewer drivers were on Ohio roads in 2020, the number of fatal crashes rose.

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of fatal crashes in Ohio rose by about six percent, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, many Ohioans started working from home and there was less traffic on the road overall.

Kara Hitchens, a AAA spokeswoman, said experts thought fewer people would be driving this year after the COVID-19 related lockdowns started.

“But I don’t know that experts could have put a number on the projections” she said. “Nothing about this pandemic has been predictable.”

Data from the Ohio Department of Transportation shows a yearlong decrease in the number of cars on the roads compared to 2019 data. In early April, the number of cars on the road was halved, according to the data, and the number of trucks also decreased by about 20%. But by the middle of July until the middle of December, the most recent week available of data, the number of trucks increased compared to 2019 data, by about 8% to 10%, though the number of cars on the road was still down.

It’s not clear why there were so many fatal crashes.

Car crashes in general did not appear to rise in 2020. The state patrol investigated about 14% fewer crashes in 2020, when they investigated 54,662 crashes, as compared to 2019, when they investigated 63,410 crashes, according to OSHP data.

OSHP also recorded fewer enforcement stops involving drunken driving: 16,384 cases in 2020 versus 22,317 stops in 2019, according to their statistics.

More than 10,500 crashes related to alcohol occurred in Ohio in 2020, according to OSHP statistics, and many of them occurred in December. Alcohol was a contributing factor in about 32% of Ohio’s 2020 fatal crashes, according to the same statistics.

According to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index, 94% of drivers say driving after drinking is very or extremely dangerous. But almost 10% admitted to having done so in the past 30 days.

Distracted driving violations also rose in 2020 by about 10%, according to numbers from OSHP. In 2020, the patrol saw 9,352 violations, compared to 8,487 violations in 2019.

“We just don’t know why there has been an uptick and we hope for 2021 that decreases and we get back to some type of normalcy,” said Trooper Jessica McIntyre, a public information officer for OSHP.

Both AAA and OSHP said avoiding drunken driving could lessen the severity of crashes. Both strongly recommended wearing a seatbelt and avoiding distracted driving.

“Even if a person ends up in a crash, the single best thing to do to lessen the chances of it being a fatal crash is to wear the seatbelt,” said Hitchens.

Several severe fatal crashes occurred in the Miami Valley in 2020. Four people were killed in about 24 hours between Dec. 15-16.

ExploreBrookville teen dead after SUV, truck collide, hit residence in Darke County

Brooke Groves, 19, was killed in a two-vehicle crash on alternative Ohio 49 in Darke County on Dec. 15. Groves was a passenger in an SUV that went into the path of a truck and was hit. The SUV also hit a residence.

CareFlight transported the driver of the SUV, Breanne Groves, 20, of Brookville, to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. She was in stable condition.

Also on Dec. 15, at around 11 a.m., Zachary T. Ryback, 24, of Colony, Kansas, was driving a semi-truck and crashed into a semi in front of him, causing it to hit another semi-truck. He was pronounced dead and a passenger in the semi-truck went to the hospital.

On Dec. 16 on I-75 south near the Miami-Shelby County line around 4:43 a.m., Jesus Gonzales, 42, of Sidney was driving a 2002 GMC Sonoma on the highway near Kirkwood Road when he lost control and was hit by a semi-truck. The semi then collided with a 2014 Dodge Avenger.

Gonzales and his passenger, Jesus Godinez, 18, of Sidney,were both pronounced dead at the scene, according to OSHP. Both crashes remain under investigation.

“The only thing is that this has been a rough year for a lot of people during this pandemic,” McIntyre said. “It has been a weird and strange year.”

Kristen Spicker contributed to this report.


BY THE NUMBERS:

Ohio overall:

2020: 1,221 fatal crashes

2019: 1,149

Montgomery:

2020: 63

2019: 41

2018: 47

Greene:

2020: 13

2019: 18

2018: 5

Clark:

2020: 23

2019: 8

2018: 16

Butler:

2020: 22

2019: 20

2018: 28

Warren:

2020: 15

2019: 19

2018: 17

Miami:

2020: 9

2019: 13

2018: 11

Preble:

2020: 7

2019: 11

2018: 6

Darke

2020: 9

2019: 9

2018: 6

Source: Ohio State Highway Patrol. Last updated Dec. 28. 2020.