The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Roadways’ (not so new) enemy

Can anyone tell me what falling asleep, applying makeup, eating a sandwich, swatting at a mosquito, and admiring landscaping have in common?  They are all something that you should not be doing…when operating a vehicle.

The Van Wert Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol has handled serious injury and/or fatal crashes just this year involving the above-mentioned distractions. Distractions can come in many forms:  screaming children, a lap dog, changing the radio station, dropping your fries.  But one of the biggest is, you guessed it, electronic hand held devices. Our culture has adopted cell phone and tablet usage as a faux appendage, and it is killing Ohioans daily when people choose to ignore safe practices when driving.

Lt. Timothy Grigsby
By Lt. Timothy Grigsby

Somehow in Ohio and across the nation, we have migrated towards operating a 4,000-pound or more vehicle as a secondary activity, while we are driving.  We eat, talk on cell phones, carry on conversations, read newspapers, all while we are supposed to keep a 7-10 foot wide vehicle traveling at 55-70 miles per hour inside a 12-foot wide lane. When did that happen? When did we become so numb to taking the necessary precautions to arrive at our destinations safely that we drive a car while reading a newspaper and eating a bowl of cereal (yes, I have seen that too).

I will never forget the day that distracted driving hit me in the face. It was December 20, 2009. I was a three-year trooper and had signaled in for duty just before 7 p.m.  My dispatcher told me to respond to a serious crash on the east side of Lima. When I arrived, I found what can only be described as a scene that looked like a bomb went off. There was debris everywhere. The scene was chaotic, and I was the trooper tasked with taking this mangled mess and sorting through it to put it back together and make it make sense. The problem is it just didn’t. The area was a straight portion of road on a state route. How could this have happened?

Upon inspecting the inside of what I thought might be the at-fault vehicle, I found a cell phone. It just fit. I went to the hospital to continue my investigation. This is where my heart was broken, and it changed the direction of my career. I found that a 3-year-old girl was killed. The driver was the girl’s father. While speaking with him, I heard the shriek of the mother that had just been told her daughter was dead. I will never forget that sound.

Throughout my subsequent three-month investigation, it was discovered the girl’s father had been sending and receiving text messages in a conversation. He rear-ended a vehicle that had stopped to turn left, and his vehicle then careened into the path of an oncoming pickup truck that struck his daughter’s door, killing her instantly. The little girl who lost her life, five days before Christmas, was eight days older than my daughter. Talk about perspective. I have handled many serious injury and fatal crashes in my career as a state trooper. That day was one of the more difficult days of my career. I finished my shift, went home, took off the uniform that I proudly wear and cried.

I share this story to drive home the point that operating a motor vehicle must be taken more seriously than what we have been seeing. Thus far in 2015, five mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, classmates, friends and neighbors will not be around for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s, because they died on our roads … and all of them could have been prevented.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol has partnered with state troopers in five neighboring states to combat distracted driving. The Findlay District, comprised of seven highway patrol posts in 12 counties in northwest Ohio, has started a zero tolerance effort to combat these devastating and life altering crashes.  From July 13 to August 13, state troopers will be taking enforcement of distracted driving violations to a whole new level. There must be a change in behavior of drivers while behind the wheel.

If five Van Wert and Paulding County residents had died this year as a result of Ebola or polio, it would be considered an epidemic and there would be a public outcry for major intervention, and rightfully so.  Well, five dead from preventable traffic crashes is five too many and my post is not waiting around for the problem to fix itself, because it will not.

The house of regret is built on the foundation of poor decisions.  Think about that for a moment.  You choose to answer or not answer a cell phone call while driving. You choose to text or reach for a sandwich while driving, or you choose not to.  Please help by partnering with us and choose to drive undistracted, and make Van Wert and Paulding Counties just a little bit safer each day.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol reminds motorists to drive sober, not distracted, and always buckle your safety belt.

Editor’s note: Lt. Grigsby is the Post Commander of the Van Wert Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.  He welcomes input and public comments. You can reach him at 419.238.3055 or visit him at the post, 10234 Van Wert-Decatur Road.

POSTED: 07/20/15 at 6:19 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions