Following a two-year effort to discourage distracted driving along seventeen miles of the Mahoning Valley’s busiest freeways, the State of Ohio is now turning its attention to Interstate 680.

An official with the Ohio Department of Transportation tells 21 News that plans will be announced later this month to move the Distracted Driving Corridor from Interstates 80 and 76 to I-680 which stretches from Route 11 in Austintown to Western Reserve Road in Boardman.

In April 2018, the Ohio State Highway Patrol in partnership with ODOT created the state's first Distracted Driving Safety Corridor with the aim of reducing distracted driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities. The safety corridor, which covered an area including I-76 in Mahoning County in the west, to I-80 in Trumbull County in the east, was the first of its kind in Ohio and believed to be the first in the Nation.

The purpose of the corridor, stretching from State Route 534 on I-76 to Logan Way on I-80, was to make drivers aware of the high number of injury crashes on the highways.

Between January 1, 2016, and February 28, 2018, the Ohio State Highway Patrol handed out 2,735 distracted driving-related violations in Mahoning and Trumbull Counties on Interstate 76 and Interstate 80.

During that same time, there were 1,245 distracted driving type crashes which included three fatalities and nearly 450 injuries.

Just since 2016, there have been six deadly accidents involving distracted driving along I-680. 
 
"It's about changing the behavior," says Sgt. Ray Santiago with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
 
"A lot of it is being data driven, identifying trends, working with partners," says Santiago. "It's doing all of those things to make sure that we're not being static. Some of the increases (in distracted driving incidents) don't necessarily by volume match up with some of the other contributing circumstances, but we don't want to get to that point."
 
As the technology used to distract drivers has evolved, so has the technology law enforcement is using to catch them in the act.
 
 "Having a plane up there that can observe one of these unsafe driving behaviors and having a camera that can zoom in and see what's going on and call that into a unit or an officer on the ground and say 'hey this one almost just hit another vehicle, they're coming right toward you'," says Santiago.
 
The plane is normally used for search and rescue and manhunts.
 
Now it's being used to not only change habits, but prevent a tragedy.
 

The 76-80 stretch of interstate carries between 40,000 and 60,000 vehicles per day and has some of the highest truck volumes in the state.

The interstate corridor had also been plagued with a rash of serious crashes in recent years despite it being relatively straight, flat, and wide.

Signs were put up designated the stretch of road as a Distracted Driving Corridor and state troopers increased enforcement.

According to a report published last year, there was a dramatic decrease in injury crashes after the corridor was implemented.

Although tickets were written, the majority of OSHP contacts involved handing out pamphlets, "If You Think You're a Multitasker, You're Wrong".

The corridor was in effect for a two-year period and decommissioned at the end of April 2020.

During the two-year deployment period, traffic crashes were reduced by 30% and injury crashes were reduced by 31% because of these efforts, according to the ODOT report.

In the two years prior to the installation of the corridor, there were 571 crashes within the corridor. During the two-year period that the corridor was in place, there were 399 total crashes, which represented a 30% reduction in crashes during the two-year implementation of the safety corridor.

During the two years, there were 127 serious injuries within the corridor. During the two-year period that the corridor was in place, there were 88 total serious injuries.

Unlike the 80/76 corridor, I-680 is not flat and straight but is made up of several curves, making distracted driving even more of a hazard.

According to the Highway Patrol, there were a total of 925 accidents along 680 from 2016 through 2020. Two hundred and sixty-three of those crashes involved injuries and six of the accidents were fatalities.

Of all the accidents along I-680 during the five-year period, the patrol says distracted driving played a part in 27 of them.

During the period troopers issued 35 citations for distracted driving along 680.

The I-680 Distracted Driving Corridor will be implemented in collaboration with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Youngstown Police Department, and ODOT.

Troopers say they need your help to spot and catch these distracted drivers, too.
 
You can call *677 to do that.