A press conference was held on Friday, Oct. 19 to announce two grants that have been issued to help educate drivers on safety issues and to ensure the roads are safe from intoxicated drivers.
The largest of the two grants was for $152,936 and is federal and state funds that go towards the Mahoning County OVI Task Force. According to Canfield police Assistant Chief Scott Weamer, it is a return of funding after a yearlong break.
"This is the second year for this grant," Weamer said. "We were funded in 2010, but received nothing last year."
He said the county had dropped below the threshold for alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2010 and therefore received no funds for 2011. In 2011, there were 25 traffic fatalities of which 11 were alcohol related. That was enough to bring the funding back to the county to help pay for the manpower needed to put on a traffic blitz or checkpoint.
The Canfield Police Department received the funding because it serves as the host agency for the OVI Task Force. Prior to Canfield taking on the host role, the Goshen Police Department served as host and handled the grants since 2004.
Departments involved in the OVI Task Force include Canfield, Austintown, Beaver, Boardman, Goshen, Jackson, Milton, New Middletown, Springfield, Youngstown, Mahoning County Sheriff, Mill Creek MetroParks, and Youngstown State University. The grant funds cover the use of officers from these departments when an event is conducted.
Weamer said for 2012, the task force will continue the blitz enforcement and checkpoints, but will be initiating a new concept called Corridor Enforcement Blitz. He said the blitz, where officers from participating police departments saturate one problem area for four or more hours has been more successful than the checkpoints.
"We have set up checkpoints and in a short time the word spreads rapidly," Weamer said. "I have seen people taking pictures on their phones and sending them out to their friends."
In the blitz, it is harder for motorists to warn others, and the new corridor program may go even further at stopping drunken drivers.
"The corridor enforcement blitz is where we will take on a route like U.S. 224 and cover it county line to county line," Weamer said. "It is a big advantage and we can use our resources more efficiently."
While the new blitz may offer more coverage area, Weamer said the real goal is education. He said he is not out to stop people from visiting a bar and having some drinks. He just doesn't want them to get behind the wheel. He feels it is more important to stress taking responsibility and finding a safe way home, such as cab or a designated driver.
Mahoning Safe Communities is also trying to educate people and keep the issue before the community. It recently received a grant of $64,005.52 that will be used to help change behaviors, according to Safe Communities spokesperson Susan Viars.
"We do a lot of public awareness campaigns," Viars said. "For example, we have issued cocktail napkins at local bars to remind people not to drink then drive."
Viars said her organization is also focusing on another huge traffic problem - texting.
"There have been fatalities directly related to texting," she said. "I tell teens that driving is a privilege, not a right. When you get behind the wheel of a 3,000 pound vehicle, you have to take driving seriously."
Weamer said texting is a unique problem with a definite generational difference. Younger people growing up with technology are more likely to text and drive. The older drivers are less likely to use text devices.
In September, Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich signed the state's texting and driving ban, and police can start ticketing beginning around March 1, 2013. For drivers under the age of 18, texting and the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices will be a primary offense. For adults, it will be a secondary offense. Canfield city's texting ban went into effect Oct. 1.
"Research has shown that teens want to be in the know and stay connected with friends," Viars said. "But no text is worth putting your life at risk."
The Mahoning Safe Communities grant will also help educate the public in other areas such as seatbelt use and bicycle safety as well as texting and impaired driving.