County review board to focus on local crashes, seat belt use

Jackie Mantey

Program to unite Portage officials to help spearhead reduction in automobile fatalities

If strapping a three-inch wide piece of webbed, federal-approved fabric around your shoulders and hips isn’t on your agenda when stepping into your car, you’re not alone.

But Portage County Safe Communities has plans to help change that. The local program, made possible through grant funds from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, recently established the Fatal Crash Review Board.

Portage County Fatal Car Crashes

Total fatalities in 2007: 23

Total fatalities in 2006: 19

Deaths on Interstate 76 (’07): 3

Involved alcohol or drugs (’07): 56%

A result of no seat belt (’07): 61%

Source: Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Ravenna Police

The board will analyze the 23 fatal car crashes in the county from 2007, identifying common links and helping produce programs to reduce that number of fatalities, said Ravenna patrol officer Dustin Svab, who coordinates Safe Communities.

“We want to reduce injuries and establish trends,” Svab said, the most glaring development being the lack of seat belt use.

He said rather than a due date for their findings, the board will interlace its analyses with improvements to programs Safe Communities already has instituted, such as experienced driver awareness classes and seat belt campaigns.

The board will also be responsible for looking at dangerous intersections and where failures to yield reports are highest. Countermeasures, Svab said, will include stepping up enforcement in troublesome areas — something Sgt. Brian Holt from the Ravenna Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said is already being taken care of.

“We have already identified failure to yield violations as a key problem and have increased control,” Holt said. In short, they’re paying more attention.

Members from numerous county health, law enforcement and education institutions, including the Kent Police, comprise the board. After a meeting in December, Svab said it was clear where there was a need for improvement.

“If we could get people to buckle up and not drive impaired, we wouldn’t have a fraction of the problem we have now,” Svab said.

His blunt assessment is backed by the numbers. While the final tally of fatal car crashes jumped by only four in 2007 from the previous year, 61 percent of the fatalities were a result of not wearing a seat belt.

Another yearly persistent trend that Svab said was noteworthy is that 56 percent of the crashes involved alcohol or drugs. A majority of those reported an average blood alcohol level of .208.

“That’s creeping up on three times the legal limit,” Svab said.

And although there were no obvious age trends from the crashes last year, Interstate 76 was home to three fatalities — up from one the year before — according to information from Robert Wakefield of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office.

This fact could be the most disconcerting to almost 12,000 undergraduates who commute to campus on a weekly basis, but Holt offered some comfort.

“We’ll continue to poll I-76 routinely, but you can expect a no tolerance policy when it comes to seat belt violations and driving impaired,” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Jackie Mantey at [email protected].