Emergency contact registrations offered

Kelly Byer

Ohio BMV hopes to make it easier to reach family in case of car accidents

Ohio’s new Next of Kin Registration System could aid law enforcement in contacting a crash victim’s family and friends.

The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Ohio Department of Public Safety debuted the registration system Aug. 8.

Officers can use the emergency contact information, which can be provided in addition to license and registration information at a BMV office, for accidents involving serious injury or fatality, said Don Dunbar, Ohio State Highway Patrol sergeant of the Portage County post.

Dunbar said he has responded to accidents where it was difficult to contact people, which is especially common during the summer or at times when people take vacations.

“You have to leave messages with neighbors or try to find out if they have family members other than the family you’re trying to get ahold of to contact them,” Dunbar said. “We’ve had lapses, I know personally, where we waited hours before we actually got

ahold of somebody to tell them that one of their loved ones had been killed.”

Dunbar said if something like that happens once, then that’s too many times.

“If it was my family, I would want somebody to get ahold of me right away,” Dunbar said. “If there’s a means for them to be able to do that, I think it’s something they should do.”

Lindsey Bohrer, BMV public information officer, said anyone with a valid Ohio driver or commercial driver license, temporary permit or state identification card can list as many as two emergency contacts. Only authorized BMV employees and law enforcement will be able to access the database.

The only requirement pertains to anyone younger than 18, who must list a parent or guardian for at least one contact if they choose to provide the emergency information, Bohrer said.

“It has taken about a year to fully implement,” Bohrer said.

Ohio citizens Carmella Wiant and Linda Wuestenberg proposed the legislation to state officials, and Sen. Keith Faber and Rep. Jim McGregor worked to accomplish it. Wiant and Wuestenberg were both impacted by not being able to reach a loved one soon after a crash.

“It came back to us, and we fully supported it,” Bohrer said. “We know we are one of the first states to implement a program like this.”

The Ohio State Highway Patrol handles between 2,000 to 2,300 accidents a year, and Dunbar said having the next of kin information will improve ability to contact people.

“This is going to give us an extra avenue to use to make those contacts when all else has failed,” Dunbar said.

As of yesterday, 26,064 people had registered their next of kin information, not including paper registrations, Bohrer said.

Bohrer said there has been a positive response to the program.

“That’s what we were hoping for,” Bohrer said. “We’re just trying to encourage all Ohioans to take advantage of this.”

Contact safety reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected].