Stiffer penalties being sought for wrong-way drivers PDF Print E-mail
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor   
Thursday, 15 November 2012 10:20
File photo. State Senator Mark Wagoner. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
State Senator Mark Wagoner wants to strengthen penalties against wrong-way drivers.
Wagoner, R-Ottawa Hills, testified Wednesday for Senate Bill 336, which would increase penalties for motorists who drive on the wrong side of a divided highway. During his testimony, Wagoner talked about the accident earlier this year on Interstate 75 in Wood County that took the lives of three Bowling Green State University sorority sisters. That accident was caused by a driver headed southbound in the northbound lanes, he told members of the Senate Committee on Highways and Transportation.
"I think it resonated," Wagoner said after the hearing of the reminder to his fellow legislators of the tragic loss of lives. "I think it struck a chord."
Though the legislation went before committee Wednesday, months after the deadly I-75 crash, Wagoner said it was actually introduced prior to that accident.
The bill was originally sponsored by Bob Spada, a state senator from the Cleveland area, whose brother-in-law was killed in a wrong-way crash.
Spada has since left the Senate, so "I became the primary sponsor," Wagoner said.
So far, Wagoner has seen no opposition to the legislation.
"Unfortunate events have again stressed the urgent need for tougher penalties," he said. "This bill presents an important step in making Ohio's roadways safer."
The legislation would impose a class three license suspension for wrong-way drivers who cause a fatal accident. Violation of that suspension would result in a third degree felony, a prison term of three years and up to a $10,000 fine.
A fourth degree felony would be imposed if the wrong-way driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, regardless if an accident is caused or a life is lost.
"We recognize you can't legislate common sense," Wagoner said. And work should continue with the Ohio Department of Transportation to make roadway and signage changes that may prevent wrong-way traffic.
However, this legislation may also help, according to Wagoner, who noted that the stiffer penalties only go into effect if a motorist goes further than 500 feet in the wrong direction.
"If you drive more than 500 feet on a freeway the wrong direction, you just aren't paying attention," he said. "The consequences should be steep."

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