Fewer South Carolinians are dying without seat belts and fewer motorcyclists are being killed, but fatalities involving mopeds or similar scooters are way up, according to the latest preliminary state highway accident data.
State Department of Public Safety officials provided preliminary accident data to The Greenville News that shows bright spots for the state’s highway safety efforts but also areas of concern.
For the first half of this year, 357 people have died on the state’s roadways, according to the data, one more than during the same time period last year, which ended with a fatality count of 734, a sizable drop from 2012.
The percentage of those dying in accidents without seat belts has dropped from about 55 percent last year to about 49 percent so far this year, according to the data.
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Motorcyclists, meanwhile, are faring better with 35 deaths so far this year compared with 54 for the same period last year, said Lt. Kelley Hughes, a spokesman for the South Carolina Highway Patrol. For all of last year, 118 motorcyclists died, according to state accident data.
“I know there are more bikes on the road than there were so that’s good news,” said Billy Weaver, owner of Harley-Davidson of Greenville. He credited the safety campaign of the state’s Motorcycle Awareness Alliance as well as the state’s efforts to remind motorists to watch for motorcycles for the drop in fatalities.
Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas, agreed South Carolina’s numbers this year are welcomed by safety advocates.
“For a state that just passed anti-texting and Emma’s Law (DUI reform), it’s good news to see things going in the right direction,” he said.
But Hughes said not all of the data is good.
Fatalities for those riding mopeds increased from seven for the first half of last year to 18 for the first half of this year, he said. Legislators introduced bills this year to regulate mopeds but none passed.
“I think there are a lot of people who ride mopeds that don’t have a driver’s license of any kind,” Weaver said, “which I find kind of disconcerting.”
Weaver also said he believes mopeds should be regulated.
“They’re motorized vehicles and they’re riding on the streets,” he said. “To me it does not make any sense they are not regulated.”
Six people died on mopeds in Greenville County in 2013, Hughes said. Three have died so far this year in the county.
Hughes said another concern is pedestrians. The number of pedestrians killed on the roads has stayed even with the numbers from last year — at 42, he said. According to the Department of Public Safety, 89 pedestrians were killed last year on the state’s roads.
Hughes said one worry is that fatalities have picked up during the summer’s 100 Deadly Days. He said the first weekend of June, the state was well below last year’s fatality count. But after three more deadly weekends, the numbers have edged past last year’s.
“Other than that one weekend after Memorial Day we have gotten on the wrong foot,” he said.
Crosby’s organization asked South Carolina drivers last week to be especially cautious of the holiday weekend, noting that 10 people died during the July Fourth weekend last year, though it included an extra day of driving.
Crosby said the 10 deaths were the most for that holiday weekend in four years. In six of those deaths, according to AAA, alcohol was involved.
“July Fourth has proven to be one of the deadliest days of the year for traffic deaths,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “The holiday spirit and corresponding celebrations seem to outweigh caution, courtesy and common sense by drivers this time of year.”
Hughes said the state’s improvement in seatbelt use has helped keep fatalities down.
In fact, the state last week released the latest seatbelt use data showing a 90 percent overall usage rate, slightly down from last year but the third consecutive year that at least 90 percent of the state’s drivers have buckled up. By comparison, only about 79 percent used seat belts in 2008.
Hughes said because a majority of traffic fatalities occur at night, the state has increased seatbelt enforcement efforts at night.
“We hope that effort is what is making the difference in that category,” he said.
The most fatalities so far this year have occurred in Greenville County, with 32, followed by Horry with 25.
“We lost a lot of ground in June,” Hughes said. “And we’ve still got the rest of the summer to go.”
Greenville led the state in traffic fatalities last year with 67, followed by Richland County with 60 and Horry County with 50, according to preliminary data released at the end of last year.