- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Facing an uptick in traffic deaths so far this year, Ohio officials will start using existing digital message boards along highways in an effort to make drivers think more about their behavior.

The State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Department of Transportation say 130 permanent message boards along roads in Ohio’s largest metropolitan and high-traffic areas will display safety catchphrases, such as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” along with the updated total of traffic deaths for 2015.

Ohio logged more than 485 traffic deaths during the first half of the year, an increase of about 75 compared with the same period last year.

“We’re hoping that they’ll see that and think, ‘Man, maybe I should change my driving behaviors. Maybe I should slow down. Maybe I should make sure my seat belt’s on. Maybe I should just put that cellphone down and reply to that text message when I get to my destination,’” ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning said.

The fatality figures and safety messages are scheduled appear on the message boards during weekday nights and around the clock on weekends for at least the next three months. The boards will display the usual travel-time estimates and traffic congestion warnings during the daytime on weekdays.

The agencies said there’s no significant additional cost for the effort because it uses technology that is already in place.

For the Fourth of July holiday, portable message boards - the kind typically used to alert travelers to upcoming construction zones and lane shifts - will be used to share similar safety messaging along roads in some more rural areas, said Sgt. Vincent Shirey, a spokesman for the patrol.

Bruning said officials hope travelers realize there is more to the messages than a simple count of traffic deaths.

“These are real people that have real families that grieve,” he said. “And that’s why it’s such an important issue to both of our agencies, because we know that every time this number goes up, that’s another family that’s going through a really tough time. We would love to see that number be zero at some point.”

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Find Kantele Franko on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10.

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