Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007
By Shelley Grieshop
Fatal accidents down in Mercer County up, slightly in Auglaize
  Keep your eye on the road.
That's the message area law enforcement officers are hoping motorists heed as the new year begins.
"I'd like to ask motorists to concentrate more when they're behind the wheel; focus on what they're doing," said Lt. Dan Lay, commander of the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Driver inattention accounted for the majority of traffic accidents in the local area, he said.
Traffic fatalities decreased dramatically in Mercer County from six in 2005 to two in 2006, but increased slightly in Auglaize County from six deaths to nine on area roadways.
Traffic deaths decreased overall on all Ohio roadways from 1,320 in 2005 to 1,209 (as of Dec. 29) in 2006. The majority of those deaths occurred on rural roadways across the state.
One of Mercer County's fatalities occurred on Wabash Road - an open rural roadway that draws its share of speeders, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said.
"They (drivers) tend to get up to higher speeds on the rural roads. The Wabash has fairly good pavement, but the road's not very wide," he said.
Wabash Road between the village of Fort Recovery and state Route 219, and Burkettsville-St. Henry between state Routes 29 and 219, both are examples of rural roads that get their share of speeders, Grey said. He advises people to slow down.
"As soon as drivers start to lose control they overcorrect and that leads to accidents," he said.
Grey said he was disappointed with the low number of people who enrolled this year in the new STOPPED (Sheriffs Telling Our Parents & Promoting Educated Drivers) program for children under 21. Parents who enroll receive decals for cars driven by inexperienced drivers. If the young driver is pulled over by officers, the information is mailed to parents.
"Parents apparently don't want to upset their kids," Grey said.
He believes the program is a good one that allows parents, children and law enforcement to work together for safer roads.
Grey said he'd like to believe the fatality count decreased because he raised his department's patrol from two districts to three.
"But I can't tell you that's why. Was it the higher visibility? Can one car make a difference? I just don't know," he said.
Lay said troopers will focus more effort this year along U.S. 33 where five of the nine fatal crashes occurred. Speeding, failure to control and seat belt usage also will be focused on this coming year by the state highway patrol, he added.
A federal survey shows that 80 percent of local drivers use their seat belt, Lay said. He's ecstatic about that statistic but would be even happier if there were no fatal accidents to report in the future.
"I'd like to tell motorists that if they aren't used to wearing a seat belt they better get into a habit of it. I've seen a lot of accidents where cars were totaled but the drivers were walking around at the scene because they had their belt on," he said. "It really can make a difference."
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