More than 500 people have died over the last five years after drivers crossed left of center on undivided Ohio highways, something state lawmakers hope to prevent with rumble strips down the center of some roads.
Already this year 89 people have died in 1,314 left-of-center crashes in the Buckeye State, according to data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Another 1,229 have been injured this year and more than 7,500 have been injured in the last five years.
“In a day of increasingly distracted drivers, the time for CLRS (center lane rumble strips) in Ohio has arrived,” said Ohio Rep. Timothy E. Ginter, R-Salem, who is the chief sponsor of a bill that would require the Ohio Department of Transportation to gradually add the rumble strips down the center lanes on all undivided, two-way highways with speed limits higher than 45 mph.
The strips, which cost between $700 and $1,025 per mile to install, would be added as the roadways come under construction, reconstruction, improvement or resurfacing, according to the legislature’s records.
ODOT hires contractors for the strips because the equipment used to grind the pavement is so specialized ODOT doesn’t have one, said ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning.
Truck driver Troy Gayheart of Xenia thinks the rumble strips are a good idea.
“They waste money on a lot of other things. That there is going to be a help,” said Gayheart.
ODOT has already been using the strips for years on areas with continued problems, Bruning said.
Nationally, the center line rumble strips have been found to reduce rural two-lane road crashes by about 45 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration. On urban two-lane roads, the reduction in crashes jumps to 64 percent.
“It does reduce the risk because what happens when the driver starts to drift across the center line, not only will they feel the car shake…but they will hear a very loud noise. It sounds like a loud buzz when you run over those things, and that’s meant to catch your attention,” Bruning said.
The Ohio House voted unanimously for the bill in June, and it’s now pending before the Senate Transportation Committee, which held a first hearing Wednesday. The legislation must gain approval by the committee and full Senate, and get House agreement on any Senate changes, before it heads to Gov. Mike DeWine for signature or veto.
ODOT has been talking with Ginter and other legislators about what ODOT already does with rumble strips and how to best use them. But the one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always best, he said.
“They mostly make sense on straighter parts of the road…on curves people are more engaged with their driving,” he said. “On straighter stretches, if you’re tired, you may start to drift across center line.”
The rumble strips may not necessarily help in all left-of center crashes either.
Two of this year’s left-of-center fatalities include Greene County Career Center students Troy Haney and Jarred Hixson, both 16 and from Xenia. Haney was driving a Kia Spectra southeast on Ohio 235 near Hilltop Road last week when he lost control, traveling left of center and striking another driver heading the opposite direction.
Last month Graham Local sophomore Evan Whitt was killed when his vehicle went off the left side of the highway and struck several trees in the 8400 block of U.S. 36. Derek White of West Liberty was also killed when the vehicle he was a passenger in went left of center on State Route 4 near the intersection of Catawba-Mechanicsburg Road in Champaign County in July.
Two people in their early 20s were killed in a head on collision after one crossed left of center in Union Twp. on Ohio 29 in January.
“There’s also a deeper question that sometimes you don’t get the answer,” said Lt. Geoff Freeman, Dayton Ohio State Highway Patrol post commander. “Why’d you go left of center? Is it a distraction? Is it a distracted driver? There’s so many different factors.”