Greenville County traffic fatalities have risen more than 21 percent since 2010, even as road deaths for the entire state have fallen over the same time period, according to state traffic records.
And while authorities aren’t exactly sure why, they say this year’s preliminary numbers for the county that once again lead the state are being driven by DUIs, pedestrian and motorcycle accidents.
“When you look at the numbers, those three things make up 71 percent of our total fatalities in Greenville County,” Highway Patrol Cpl. Bill Rhyne told The Greenville News.
“That goes right back to our focus. We have to stay focused on why people are dying, where people are dying and how people are dying, and custom our enforcement efforts to be sure we are doing everything possible to keep these from happening.”
According to the state Department of Public Safety, 57 people have died in accidents in Greenville County through Wednesday, the same number for the same time period last year. That’s up 21.74 percent compared with the same time period in 2010, the records show.
However, traffic fatalities for the state as a whole have dipped since last year and since 2010, traffic records show.
“It could be an anomaly and by the end of the year Greenville County could trend in the same direction as the rest of the state.” said Angela Vogel Daley, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas.
“You’re not seeing an increase, which is good. But the fact that the rest of the state, for the most part, is trending downward and Greenville County isn’t would probably be a law enforcement issue in terms of targeting and campaigns for seat belt use, drunk driving and speeding.”
Rhyne said about 38 percent of Greenville County’s fatalities are DUI-related, which is lower than the state’s average of 44 percent.
But he said nine of this year’s deaths have involved pedestrian-involved accidents and 10 have involved motorcycles, both areas of concern for the Highway Patrol.
“Pedestrians are a major concern over the next two months,” he said. “You have a lot of fairs, a lot of football, you have parades coming up, you have Christmas shopping coming up.”
He said historically October is the most dangerous month for pedestrians but the last two months of the year are risky as well.
Rhyne, who teaches motorcycle safety and has ridden for the Highway Patrol, says it appears that only two of the seven accidents involving motorcycle collisions with vehicles resulted in failure-to-yield tickets to those in vehicles.
“If you look at the overwhelming majority of motorcycle collisions, the motorcyclists are the ones who are making mistakes,” he said. “And I can tell you that without question because I teach motorcycle safety statewide.”
And while he didn’t have helmet information for the 10 accidents, he said the vast majority of motorcyclists killed in accidents don’t wear helmets.
As of Wednesday, 110 motorcyclists had died on the state’s roads, according to DPS records.
Daley said distracted driving might also be a culprit in many accidents.
She said rear-end collisions have increased in North Carolina and many of those are due to distracted driving. She said that may also be to blame for increases in vehicle crashes with bikes and pedestrians.
“People may be paying attention to other cars but they may not see the pedestrian trying to cross the road,” she said.
Rhyne said one reason that Greenville leads other counties in the state in fatalities is because it is the largest county and perhaps has more motorists going through it.
He said several years ago he did a traffic count in the county and discovered there was more traffic from the area involving I-85 and I-385 than the I-26 area outside Columbia known as “Malfunction Junction” at which I-20 intersects.
Second to Greenville this year, according to the data, is Richland County, with 54 deaths.
That county also has seen a steep increase in traffic fatalities since 2010, with a 54 percent jump in deaths, the records show.
Overall, as of Friday there have been 639 traffic fatalities this year, compared with 595 for the same time period last year.
Of 417 deaths in which the person had access to a seat belt, only 231 were wearing them, the records show.
In addition, according to the data, 72 pedestrians and 10 people on bicycles were killed in statewide road fatalities this year through Wednesday, according to records.