Ohio drivers hitting police at traffic stops reached 5-year high in 2020
"The officers have to keep their heads on a swivel all of the time," said state Rep. Phil Plummer
By Nick Blizzard
Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Motorists have been cited for wrecking into four Miamisburg police cruisers parked at highway traffic stops in the past 15 months, adding to a rising number of law enforcement hit along Ohio road sides.
The latest crash happened last week, a few months after a campaign to educate drivers on Ohio's Move Over law, which aims to protect road-side vehicles and their occupants.
From 2016-2020, 56 move over-related crashes involved Ohio State Highway Patrol cars, resulting in one death of a civilian and 52 injuries to officers and civilians, records show.
Fifteen such crashes occurred last year, the highest total in a five-year period, according to the state.
"The officers have to keep their heads on a swivel all of the time," said state Rep. Phil Plummer, R- Butler Twp., and a former Montgomery County sheriff. "Unfortunately, in today's world they have to worry about who they're encountering...who they are pulling over.
"And then also you're looking at traffic flying by you," he added. "So your head's on a constant swivel. Making sure everybody on that scene is safe."
From 2016-20, Warren was sixth among Ohio counties in total move over citations issued with 939, followed locally by Clark (576), Montgomery (498) and Greene (455).
The top five counties were Franklin (2,020) and four from Northern Ohio all with at least 1,000, state records show.
In those five years, 25,182 citations have been issued statewide, OSHP documents state. During a five-span starting a year earlier, they more than tripled, including a 30% jump from 2018 to 2019.
No numbers were available on local police vehicles hit, the OSHP said. But a February wreck during an Interstate 75 traffic stop resulted in a state trooper's cruiser being struck, as well as four police vehicles from Miamisburg and Miami Twp., authorities said.
In all wrecks involving Miamisburg cruisers, the vehicles were well lit, parked off the road and no officers were seriously injured, said Police Chief John Sedlak said.
Inattention is among a variety of factors — including drivers using cellphones — for the wrecks, he said.
"It doesn't take long for a car to travel a distance and the next thing you know you have a problem," Sedlak added.
Ohio's law requires drivers to move over a lane and slow down for any stationary vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the road, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
It's a minor misdemeanor that aims to protect law enforcement officers, emergency responders, road construction, maintenance vehicles, utility crews and tow trucks, ODOT records state.
Violators can face up to 30 days in jail time and a $500 fine, depending on their driving record, according to the state.
For drivers guilty of two or more offenses in a year, it's a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail time and a $1,000 fine, records show.
Drivers should use caution when seeing a roadside vehicle, OSHP Sgt. Christina Hayes said in an email.
"With cellphones being widely used, please don't drive distracted," she said. "That text message can wait because loved ones want you home safely.
A 2020 survey of Ohio drivers conducted by a research assistant professor at The Ohio State University found many respondents lacked comprehensive knowledge about the move over law.
More than 90% of participants said they knew the law applies to law enforcement and emergency vehicles. But 70% or fewer said construction vehicles, tow trucks and disabled vehicles with flashing lights were included.
The results were "deeply concerning," said Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission Executive Director Ferzan M. Ahmed.
The state patrol stepped up awareness efforts in July, which served as its "move over" education month, Hayes said.
National Move Over Day is set for Oct. 16 and the state patrol plans to use social media to boost awareness about Ohio's law.
"Troopers are working the roadways every day and enforcing the Ohio laws to make the roadways safer," Hayes said. "Our hope is when people see troopers, we change their driving behaviors. They hit the reset button, slow down, and make it to their destination safely."
BY THE NUMBERS
—25,182: Ohio move over law citations from 2016-20.
—939: Violations recorded in Warren County in that time, the sixth highest among Ohio counties.
—56: Ohio State Highway Patrol crashes that were move over-related.
—4: Miamisburg police cruisers hit in move over crashes since July 2020.
Sources: Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Miamisburg Police Department.
From 2016-20, 25,182 Ohio move over law violations were recorded. Here are the numbers for area counties in that time:
Source: Ohio State Highway Patrol
(c)2021 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)