Smith: SC Highway Patrol working for no Thanksgiving fatalities

Guest ColumnistNovember 21, 2012 

— This week marks one of the busiest travel times of the year — for both the nation and the state. The end of summer and Labor Day marked a significant victory for our state, as we saw an encouraging downward trend in fatalities. We came through Labor Day with only one fatality, which was record-setting.

I wish I could report the same encouraging news going into the long Thanksgiving travel holiday. But after weeks of running as many as 45 fatalities behind last year at the same time, we have seen a dismal turn, including a recent quadruple fatality in the Lowcountry. In November alone, we have had 16 more highway deaths than the same period last year; 72 percent of those killed were not buckled up.

As law enforcement, it is our business to watch these trends on a daily basis and to adjust our enforcement accordingly. But it is also deeply personal to us when — despite our best efforts — family members and young children lose their lives in senseless, preventable collisions. It is our responsibility to protect. As I have met with my law enforcement arms that enforce traffic laws — the Highway Patrol and State Transport Police — I can tell you that this bad news has only strengthened our resolve.

Last year, 11 people died on our highways over Thanksgiving weekend. The year before, three people died. Our goal this year: zero fatalities.

How do we accomplish this? While people are enjoying Thanksgiving with their families, our officers will be on the roads making sure you get there safely. One valuable lesson I have learned from 23 years in law enforcement is that high-visibility enforcement works. When people see blue lights and know that consequences are imminent and real, they adjust their driving behaviors accordingly. Therefore, we are putting the public on notice that you can expect to see us this holiday season.

Thanksgiving historical trends tell us exactly how we need to tailor our enforcement. Long trips usually mean heavy local travel and even heavier out-of-state interstate travel. The violations we see are predictable year after year:

•  No safety belts.

•  Impaired driving.

•  Congested travel leading to a minor collision that can result in larger, secondary collisions.

•  Speeding and aggressive driving.

Our approach to this is three-pronged: stringent law enforcement, education and the public’s involvement.

I have instructed our officers to place a strong emphasis on safety belts, speeding and impaired driving. Nearly 60 percent of our motor vehicle fatalities this year have involved people not buckled up. So, the case for buckling up is clear. It’s the law, and we will have zero tolerance for violations — especially child-restraint violations.

Starting today, the Highway Patrol and State Transport Police will be all over the state at designated welcome centers and rest areas sharing life-saving information with travelers taking breaks. This is always a great way for us to meet the public and share the dangers on the roadways. Our spokespersons will be on radio, television and in print media sharing safety tips.

The final and perhaps most important piece to Target Zero is you, the motorist. Every decision you make behind the wheel has a consequence — not just for you but for everyone driving around you. Think before you allow yourself to be distracted, speed to reach your destination sooner or have a couple of drinks and try to drive. Get involved. Report reckless drivers or those you suspect may be impaired by calling *HP.

Help us help you this holiday season. Visit www.scdps.gov for more information about safety-break locations and travel tips.

Mr. Smith is director of the state Department of Highway Safety; contact him at scdps@scdps.gov.

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