LISBON - Those cited into Columbiana County Municipal Court with seat belt or marked lanes violations could see an increase in their fines as judges Carol Robb and Mark Frost have teamed up with Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Joe Dragovich to try to curb the numbers of fatal crashes in the county.
Dragovich said Thursday nearly all of the most recent traffic fatalities in Columbiana County have happened to people who were not wearing seat belts. Since the beginning of 2014 alone, there have been six fatalities on county roads. While one was on a motorcycle, the other five people died in three crashes where Dragovich believes seat belts could have made a difference.
In 2013, Dragovich said there were 11 fatalities with three people dying on motorcycles. Of the eight who died in vehicles, Dragovich said again none were wearing a seat belt. Similarly, in 2012 Dragovich notes 11 of the 12 people killed were not wearing safety restraints.
Dragovich said vehicles today are created to protect the people inside, crushing in certain ways in order to keep a safe compartment for the driver and passenger where they are protected by air bags. While he admits not every crash is survivable even with a seat belt, Dragovich points out those still in the designed vehicle compartment have a better chance than those ejected or thrown about inside the vehicle.
Additionally, Dragovich said many of the crashes have lane violations as part of the cause. Some are cases of drivers going left of center and others go off the right shoulder, sometimes losing control when they over correct.
"We think this is an important message," Frost said. "There are too many unfortunate deaths in this county."
In many of the vehicular homicide cases Frost has seen in his courtroom recently, many were due to a moment of inattention by one driver. Something happens, which Frost said in many cases would normally be a minor traffic citation, but in this case another vehicle is there.
"Someone dies and it's a tragedy," Frost added.
Dragovich points out with Columbiana County's terrain, becoming momentarily distracted can lead to a vehicle quickly going left of center. At the crest of a hill, that can easily mean meeting up with another vehicle. Unfortunately, going off the right side of the road can also mean crashing into a tree or a hillside.
On one day last year on state Route 517, Dragovich noted vehicles slid left of center in separate accidents about five miles apart. Whether the reasons were slush on the roadway, poor driving or bad decisions, two people died that day and a third died later of injuries from the crashes.
"Death notification is the worst part of the job," Dragovich said, adding state troopers do not enjoy writing tickets either, but to save lives they will write them.
While giving warnings for left of center has often been used to deter some drivers, Dragovich said in some cases it may be necessary to start writing tickets for the violation to help people realize the dangers in their behaviors.
The judges and Dragovich are hoping knowing they will be subjected to higher fines may help people make changes in their driving habits and seat belt use in their vehicles.
Starting Feb. 1, those who just send in their fines to county Municipal Court will pay $50 plus costs for seat belt violations or lane violations. In the past, the court had charged the minimum fine for seat belts, which was $30 plus costs. Those required to appear in court or those contesting the citation could see a different fine, either more or less.
Dragovich commended the local judges and court for caring about the residents enough to take the actions to try to change the behavior of local drivers. Although both Dragovich and Frost noted they are for personal freedoms, in this case they hope more people will choose to buckle up.
"I have to find a way to change it," Dragovich said. "Folks are dying who don't all have to die."