Drivers need to be more careful driving through S.C. highway work zones.
Under a new law, drivers who endanger S.C. road workers by disregarding work zone rules – or worse, causing injury – face fines of up to $5,000.
The stricter fines come as South Carolina braces for more highway workers being near traffic as they repair the state’s roads.
Throughout the S.C. Department of Transportation’s 100-year history, 39 road workers have been killed when working on S.C. roads. In March, two DOT employees were killed and a third injured in a hit-and-run collision in Aiken County.
“We cannot bring back those men and women we have lost,” Transportation Department Secretary Christy Hall said in a statement. “But this legislation stands as a severe warning to all motorists as they approach work zones that they could be putting the lives of highway workers – and their own lives in jeopardy.
“This new law gives significant and true meaning to our motto: ‘Let ‘em Work, Let ‘em Live.’ ”
On Wednesday Gov. Henry McMaster held a ceremonial bill signing of the law, which took effect last month.
The new law creates a new traffic violation of “endangering a highway worker” when a driver travels outside of a designated lane or fails to obey traffic signs or signals in a highway work zone.
If no highway workers are physically injured as the result of a violation, the fines range from $500 to $1000. Fines range from $1,000 to $2,000 for physically injuring a worker and from $2,000 to $5,000 for causing great bodily injury.
The fines are in addition to other charges that may be brought, such as driving under the influence, reckless driving and vehicular homicide.
South Carolina passed a gas-tax hike last month to pay for road repairs. It will take a while for major road-repair projects to ramp up, but some projects, like repaving S.C. highways, can begin almost immediately. That means more road workers will be on S.C. highways.
The tougher penalties for work-zone traffic violations came about after this year’s DOT workers’ deaths.
“Regrettably, it often takes a tragedy to prompt good legislation,” said S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.
Taylor added that distracted driving is an enormous problem that endangers the lives of highway workers. Texting, social media and mapping apps on phones take drivers’ eyes off the road, he said.
“People have to take personal responsibility for being careful and protecting other people, particularly road workers,” he said.
S.C. Department of Transportation work zone fatalities
In the past five years, six S.C. highway workers have been killed while doing their job.
2012: 1 death
2015: 3 deaths
2017: 2 deaths
Source: S.C. Department of Transportation