Officials collecting data on Ohio Turnpike wrecks

| 7/29/2005

Early numbers show truck wrecks are on the rise on the Ohio Turnpike. Officials with the state patrol and the turnpike authority caution against jumping to conclusions, connecting the early data with elimination of the split speed limit last year on the Turnpike.

According to the raw data from the Ohio State Patrol, truck wrecks have risen by 36 percent and total wrecks by 27 percent since Sept. 8, 2004. That’s when the Turnpike raised truck speed limits from 55 mph to 65 mph – the same speed as all other traffic – to help encourage trucks from parallel roadways back onto the Turnpike.

“Safety on the parallel routes seems to show an improvement, in fact there is a reduction in the number of crashes,” said Lt. Rick Zwayer, spokesman for the patrol. “On the turnpike we’re also seeing an increase in traffic, but we’re seeing an increase in the number of crashes as well.”

Zwayer said the data is part of a one-year evaluation of safety on the Turnpike and nearby roadways.

Lauren Dehrmann, spokeswoman for the Turnpike Authority, said that because the study will not be finished until November, the data couldn’t yet be fully analyzed.

“It is very preliminary,” Dehrmann said. “The uniform speed limit was just in effect as of Sept. 8, so we really do need an opportunity to look more closely at this information.”

Dehrmann said environmental and situational factors also needed to be taken into account, to be certain the data is not skewed.

“It’s very important to note that we implemented the uniform speed limit on Sept. 8, and these statistics regarding accidents since that time include the winter months,” she said. “Typically, there are more accidents during the inclement weather, and that was a large portion of these statistics, so we really do need to take a close look at the information.”

Zwayer said that because the study compares month-by-month data to previous years’ rates, bad weather from last winter should not be able sway the data. However, he also agreed that the information was too preliminary to base long-term conclusions on it.

“Keep in mind that these numbers are provisional,” Zwayer said. “We’re still looking for reports that need to come in from all jurisdictions involved in order to have a complete and comprehensive report at the end of this study.”

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer