Last July, just in time for the Independence Day holiday, the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) announced a joint initiative to keep drivers safer on Ohio highways. The two agencies began using digital message boards to display two types of information designed to encourage motorists to drive safely.
One type of message listed traffic fatalities, while the other had warnings such as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” The initiative employed 130 digital sign boards belonging to ODOT and is part of an OSHP effort to reduce traffic deaths, prompted by a 19 percent increase in deaths as of the last week in June 2015 over the same period in 2014.
According to a spokesperson for OSHP, the months of January, February and May 2015 saw significantly more traffic deaths than in the previous year. May had especially high numbers; it was the worst month for traffic deaths since 2005. Fatal drunk driving accidents tripled in May 2015 over May 2014.
The campaign was similar to one conducted by the State Patrol in December 2014, although it used different methods to convey the messages. The agency promoted its Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign using social media, radio and TV. Having digital message boards display similar slogans along highways statewide represents a new type of effort to reduce impaired and aggressive driving.
The results of the holiday sign campaign were positive. During the 2015 July 4-holiday period, seven people died in six crashes. In 2014, 12 people died in Ohio fatal vehicle crashes during the same holiday, according to the Ohio State Patrol.
These preventive campaigns are different from the sobriety checkpoints routinely conducted by the OSHP and municipal and county law enforcement agencies in Ohio. The advantage of the digital sign campaigns, as opposed to the sobriety checkpoints, is that there are no civil liberties issues associated with the sign boards.
The sobriety checkpoints, on the other hand, have raised constitutional issues, and in 12 states, such traffic stops are illegal because the constitutions of those states prohibit them. Although there have been efforts to change state laws to allow for sobriety checkpoints, they are still prohibited in Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sobriety checkpoints raise a Fourth Amendment issue. The group contends that random traffic stops violate the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. A sobriety checkpoint or random traffic stop might lead to other charges completely unrelated to drunk driving.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that sobriety checkpoints reduce drunk driving accidents. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has said they are legal. Still, the ACLU and other civil liberties advocates view checkpoints as invasions of privacy.
Drunk driving fatalities and injuries are a very real problem in many Ohio counties. The three largest cities in the state, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland, had a total of 355 drunk driving fatalities in the past six years. Cities such as these and others with high rates of drunk driving accidents are eligible for state grants to help conduct sobriety checkpoints.
Despite efforts by Ohio officials and those in other states to prevent drunk driving crashes and their consequences, people continue to be killed by drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol. If you were injured or a loved one was killed by an impaired driver in Ohio, you may wish to obtain legal advice about your rights and options.