XENIA TOWNSHIP — Each year, as a new group of drivers joins the driving population in Greene County, there’s a renewed sense of urgency in the community to educate youthful drivers.
The crash that killed two teens Oct. 16 on State Route 235 near Hilltop Road sparked this newspaper to take a closer look at that intersection, look back at the county’s crash statistics over the last five years, and check out the current efforts on driving safety.
According to Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) Lt. Robert Sellers, youthful drivers are between the ages of 15 and 24.
OSHP Statistical Analysis Unit data shows from 2014 to 2019, nine crashes happened at the State Route 235-Hilltop intersection, six of which involved a youthful driver. In five crashes, a minor injury was suspected and four crashes had property damage only. Four happened in the morning between 7 and 9:30 a.m., while five happened in the range of noon to 3:35 p.m.
Those statistics don’t include the recent fatal, which happened close to the intersection around 1:20 p.m.
But to OSHP Xenia Post Commander Lt. Matt Schmenk, the more striking fact is that out of the 55 crashes within a one-mile radius of that intersection during the five years, 49 of them were youth-related.
Schmenk said statistics, however, indicate that higher-crash areas are actually on U.S. Route 35 and Interstate 675.
Within those five years, State Route 235 saw 587 crashes, including two fatals. A total of 227 of these were youth-related. Comparatively, in the same time period there were 1,926 crashes on U.S. Route 35, including three fatals. Of these, 624 crashes were youth-related, including one fatal.
Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) plans to improve the congestion and safety at the intersections of U.S. Route 35 and Factory Road and Orchard Lane with the construction of two new signalized intersections called superstreets. The majority of construction is to begin in spring 2020, to be completed by late 2022.
As a whole, Greene County had 22,291 crashes from 2014 to date, with 38 percent of them youth-related; Ohio had 1,705,840 crashes, with 33 percent of them youth-related.
State legislators are looking at new drivers as well, considering a bill that would make changes to laws surrounding licenses. Under House Bill 106, a temporary instruction permit would have to be held for a year instead of six months, and the minimum age that a minor could obtain a probationary license would change to 16 1/2 instead of 16. The bill would also change the midnight curfew for probationary licensed drivers who are driving without a parent to 10 p.m., with some exceptions.
The Transportation and Public Safety Committee passed the bill Oct. 30; next it moves onto the full House for approval.
‘They think it will never happen to them’
After a fatal crash, no matter the age of the drivers, Schmenk said troopers always look at three things: engineering, enforcement and education.
According to Elizabeth A. Lyons, ODOT District 8 public information officer, crews will install additional signs emphasizing the curve on State Route 235 and the Hilltop Road intersection. During the week of Nov. 11, two signs will be installed on both sides of the state route in each direction, showing a suggested speed of 50 miles per hour.
When it comes to enforcement, Schmenk said he focuses on high crash areas — strategically placing units on U.S. Route 35 but also on State Route 235 during times students are driving to and from school. He said the sheriff’s office has also recently agreed to send a free unit to that area during high-crash times.
But bottom-line, said Schmenk: The need to educate drivers never goes away.
“It never ends — it’s year after year, because we have new drivers every year,” he said. “I don’t know if a lot of teens think they’re invincible, but I just think they don’t understand the reality of what happens in a car crash. They think it will never happen to them. They need to get that out of their mindset … That’s why we need to make sure we educate.”
OSHP troopers speak about driving safety at driving schools, public safety fairs and festivals, high school mock crashes and football games, and events like CarTeen throughout the year. They also partner with the Greene County Safe Communities Coalition, a Greene County Public Health entity that brings educational activities to all nine high schools in the county, often sponsored by Allstate and State Farm.
“Starting conversations about driving safety is the first step. Driving education programs are expensive and not all students can attend,” Jillian Drew, Safe Communities coordinator, said. “Providing some type of education to youth regarding driving safety is key. Our goal is to educate and empower youth to feel confident to speak up when they don’t feel safe.”
Drew said Safe Communities will continue to work with schools. Past outreach included seat belt checks after school, county-wide billboard contests and signing Don’t Text and Drive banners at lunch. Most recently, Safe Communities brought ThinkFast Interactive, a fast-paced trivia program, to Cedarville High School. Drew said she’s planning to bring ThinkFast to the Greene County Career Center next year.
But, as Schmenk says, the message starts beyond school walls — at home.
“One of the things we tell parents is they’ve been around, they’re experienced. Them talking to their kids at home is even more important than us talking to them because obviously the kids look up to their parents, they listen to them, they take sound advice … We try to do our best to keep everyone safe but … they need to make sure they’re talking to their kids.”
Schmenk said parents can start by talking about buckling up.
“Seat belts are one of the only things we have in a motor vehicle to protect ourselves from injury, besides the air bag,” he said.
As cell phones have become a large component of distracted driving, Schmenk encourages drivers to put their phones in the glove box to limit temptation, use hands-free if a call must be made, and if using GPS, set the route before starting the trip.
According to Schmenk, besides distracted driving, speed is the main factor in crashes he sees.
The message? Slow down and drive defensively.
“A lot of people don’t talk about driving defensively anymore,” he said. “Watch out for the other drivers that are out there. If you know there are crashes in areas, like 235 and Hilltop, drive defensively in that area especially.”
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498. Follow @annadbolton on Facebook.