Highway patrol launches safe driving initiative
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Law enforcement is on the lookout for impaired drivers and is asking the public to keep their eyes peeled.
Lt. Maurice Waddell of the St. Clairsville post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol spoke to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners Wednesday about a new summer initiative during this period of higher arrests for impaired driving.
Beginning June 9 and going through Aug. 28 his post has partnered with the Steubenville post of the highway patrol, the Belmont and Jefferson county sheriff’s offices and Martins Ferry Police Department, as well as Crossroads Counseling Service. Gold, Khourey and Turak personal injury law firm will also help promote reporting dangerous driving.
He said law enforcement will be on alert from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays with the goal of decreasing the number of impaired drivers on the roadways.
“This is all based on statistics. We’ve seen a rise within Belmont County and Jefferson County with drug-impaired arrests … Narcan (anti-overdose) use, overdose deaths,” he said, adding Ohio 7 sees the greatest annual increase. “We’re going to focus on Ohio 7.
“Impaired driving accounts for more than three quarters of our fatal crashes in … Belmont and Monroe (counties),” Waddell said.
He said so far this year the St. Clairsville post is the third highest in the state for drug-impaired driving arrests. More information can be found at statepatrol.ohio.gov, broken down by county. He said the site is updated every Tuesday and goes back close to five years. He did not speculate if circumstances such as the county’s central position and major highways or the proximity of cities such as Steubenville and Wheeling might be contributing.
“Overall we’re just seeing a rise in all of it,” he said.
He added that methamphetamine is the type of drug troopers most frequently encounter during traffic stops, although the drug categories “run the gamut.”
Waddell added these are the “hundred deadliest days of summer,” Memorial Day through Labor Day, as designated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol due to a usual spike in fatal crashes. He said it is yet to be seen whether factors such as rising gas prices will impact travel and lead to fewer cars on the road.
He added that Belmont County’s distracted driving corridor running along Interstates 70 and 470 is the largest in the state.
“When we first implemented that – it’s been almost two years – we’ve seen a drastic decrease in injury crashes along the interstate, along with fatal crashes. Unfortunately we just recently had a fatal crash on 470, and that’s the first fatal crash we’ve had along the corridor since the inception.”
He emphasized the need for members of the public who observe suspicious or dangerous driving to call the post at 740-695-0915 or call #677.
“That’ll put you in touch with the local patrol post, or you can dial 911,” Waddell said. “I encourage people, if they suspect impaired driving, to definitely call the highway patrol or local law enforcement. They’re our eyes and ears so we rely on them a lot. … We definitely rely on the public to help us. If they see something, whether it’s somebody that can’t maintain a lane, somebody pulled off the side of the road, whether they seem to be slumped over the wheel, whatever they think might be an impaired driver, don’t hesitate to call us.”
Waddell said the troopers will be doing more than enforcing the law. They will also be providing information about sources of help available for addiction services.
“We’ll make referrals for them, or providing them information for local resources,” he said, adding he has been in contact with Crossroads Counseling Service and the agency has already begun seeing clients come in following arrests, seeking treatment. He said this began prior to the June initiative. He estimates about six might have sought help so far.
“Sometimes it takes an arrest to wake somebody up, to help them to take that step,” Waddell said. “Our main goal always is to reduce fatal crashes and injury crashes within the county…. The fatal crashes that occurred, a lot them were impaired by drugs or alcohol.”
He added this initiative is separate from the Belmont County Drug Court, which offers treatment to low-level, non-violent drug offenders.
“Once it gets to court, the court has processes in place to get people some addiction services. I’m sure the people we arrest that are impaired by drugs, I’m sure the court will also implement something they have to do to abide by,” Waddell said.
“We’ll keep an eye on the statistics as we’re going throughout this process,” Waddell said. “We’ll have a final report at the end about how this initiative went, or things we can improve in the future.”
In answer to a question from Commissioner Jerry Echemann, Waddell said several troopers in the district’s six patrol posts are drug recognition experts trained in recognizing the signs of impairment in a suspect and what specific drug they suggest, and they tailor field sobriety tests accordingly.
In answer to a question from Commissioner J.P. Dutton, Waddell said traffic volume and speeds have risen, with many driving in excess of 100 mph.
“From the time of the (COVID-19) pandemic to now, we have seen an increase in speeds that I have not seen in my entire career,” Waddell said. “If somebody crashes at that speed, it’s going to be catastrophic.”