It’s an all-too-frequent occurrence on Columbia’s crowded downtown streets, especially when the University of South Carolina is in session: A traffic light turns green and the car in front of you doesn’t move.
The driver’s head is down. It’s obvious he or she, possibly a USC student or young professional, is texting.
“Sure, it’s a problem with those university kids,” said Ray Farmer, director of South Carolina’s Department of Insurance. “But if you go back to their hometowns, their parents are doing it, too.”
Districted driving, however, is more than an inconvenience. It is a serious threat on our roadways and to your pocketbook. Insurance rates are rising rapidly because of a startling increase in accidents attributed to distracted driving.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Data from the state Insurance Department show rates in South Carolina jumped 8.9 percent in 2016, following hikes of 2.6 percent, 3 percent and 4.2 percent the previous three years. The increases are an aggregate of the state’s top 10 insurers.
“And distracted driving is a big part of that,” Farmer said. “You can’t go on the road without seeing someone – it doesn’t matter the age – texting, talking on on the phone or reading emails.”
Nationally, premiums have increased 16 percent since 2011, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
“Obviously, insurance companies are (raising premiums) because their losses are going up,” Farmer said.
Nationally, more than 40,000 people died on the road last year — up 14 percent since 2014. That’s the sharpest rise in 53 years, the Wall Street Journal reported. And distraction-related deaths were up almost 9 percent in 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In South Carolina, distracted-driving deaths hit a six-year low with 43 in 2016, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. But in 2015 they suffered a record high of 64.
Distracted-driving collisions with injuries rose to a record 5,698 in 2016, up from 4,399 in 2011, department records show.
“We are seeing an increase in accident frequency,” said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance Association, a lobbying group of insurance companies. “And we’re seeing more serious injuries.”
To combat that, the Insurance Department last month launched an awareness campaign casting texting and driving as #inexcusable. It also asks South Carolina residents to take an online pledge on their website http://doi.sc.gov/884/Distracted-Driving. Doing so will enter the participant in a raffle for free tickets to the iHeartMedia’s Carolina Country Concert this June in Myrtle Beach.
“This is behavior we can stop if we really want to,” Farmer said.
▪ S.C. ranks No. 1 in fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2016.
▪ 1,015 people died in traffic accidents on S.C. roads in 2016.
▪ S.C. has the nation’s third-worst drivers.
▪ Nationally, data show that 64 percent of all car accidents involve mobile phone usage.
▪ S.C. ranked 7th in 2016 in the percentage of driving fatalities related to speed.
▪ Nationally, fatal accidents increased 7 percent in 2016, the biggest year-over-year increase since 1966.
SOURCE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Distracted driving in South Carolina
Injury collisions caused by distracted driving
2011 – 4,399
2012 – 4,952
2013 – 5,145
2014 – 5,287
2015 – 5,573*
2016 – 5,698*
Fatal collisions caused by distracted driving
2011 – 45
2012 – 43
2013 – 50
2014 – 45
2015 – 59*
2016 – 39*
People killed in collisions caused by distracted driving
2011 – 51
2012 – 46
2013 – 53
2015 – 64*
2016 – 43*
* Preliminary data
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Public Safety