South Carolina is heading into the summer travel season with more traffic deaths than at the same time last year, which for the first time since 2007 saw at least 1,000 people killed on state roadways.
As of Monday, 375 people have died on South Carolina roadways this year, compared to 366 at the same time last year, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. There were 1,012 traffic deaths statewide last year, according to data provided in the governor’s executive budget.
Motorcycle deaths are down statewide this year, from 48 to 40, and bicycle fatalities have decreased from 11 to eight, public safety numbers show. Pedestrian fatalities ticked up from 47 last year to 48 this year.
The increase in traffic deaths comes ahead of what travel experts say could be the highest number of people traveling for Memorial Day since 2005. The extended holiday weekend kicks off what law enforcement calls the 100 Deadly Days of Summer – the period between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays when traffic fatalities typically increase.
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There were seven people killed on state roadways during the Memorial Day weekend last year, according to the Department of Public Safety. That was up from five each in 2015 and 2014. There were 12 traffic fatalities over Memorial Day weekend in 2013.
Locally, the numbers are a bit better.
Traffic fatalities in Richland County are down to 18 as of Monday, compared to 23 at this time last year, according to preliminary data from the Department of Public Safety. Lexington County remained the same at 16 fatalities; however, that number did not include a crash on Interstate 20 Monday morning that killed one person. Fatalities in Kershaw County have increased from four to seven.
Impaired driving, lack of seat belt use and speed continue to be contributing factors in a majority of the state’s fatal crashes, according to Lance Cpl. David Jones of the S.C. Highway Patrol.
“Oftentimes, we may hear somebody say, ‘Well, there wasn’t a cop there to stop that person,’” he said. “We need people to take personal accountability. We need mothers and fathers to talk to their kids who may go out to tell them, ‘Make sure you buckle up. If you consume alcohol, make sure you have a designated driver.’”
Troopers will ramp up patrols on some of the Midlands’ main thoroughfares this weekend, including I-20 and I-26. The Department of Transportation said lane closures for construction will be prohibited on interstates from 6 a.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Seat belt use remains high among South Carolina drivers, Jones said. However, of the more than 1,000 people killed on state roadways last year, more than half had access to seat belts but did not wear them, he said.
“A lot of these fatalities that occurred on our roadways could have walked away from these collisions had they simply buckled up,” he said. “I’m constantly reminded on a weekly basis when I respond to collisions and see vehicles that had minimal damage but yet the driver was ejected or struck the steering wheel or struck the front windshield.”
AAA Carolinas estimates 565,000 South Carolinians will travel this holiday, with 497,000 driving 50 miles or more. Spokeswoman Tiffany Wright said part of the increase in travel can be attributed to more consumer spending as a result of higher confidence in the economy, and low gas prices.
“It’s fairly busy because it really is the kickoff to the summer driving season,” she said. “We’re paying more (for gas) than we have the last two years. We’re only 1 cent more than we were last year. We’re still 15 cents below what our national average is.”
AAA predicts Myrtle Beach will be the top travel destination in the Carolinas this weekend, followed by Charlotte, Raleigh, Wilmington and Greenville.
Traffic fatalities as of May 22