Aftermath of fiery wreck that killed driver captured on dashcam
Traffic fatalities in the city of Columbia spiked 30 percent in 2015 and inched even higher in 2016, according to the Columbia Police Department and the Richland County Coroner’s Office.
Traffic fatalities remained stagnant in 2013 and 2014 at 13 each, according to Columbia police. That number spiked to 17 fatalities in 2015.
Preliminary numbers provided by the coroner’s office indicate 18 traffic fatalities in the city in 2016, which saw traffic deaths across Richland County surge more than 50 percent.
The number of traffic incidents will ebb and flow over the years, but a 30 percent increase in one year is out of the ordinary for the Capital City, according to Sgt. Bob Uhall of the Columbia Police Department.
“It’s a very sharp increase,” he said. “However, things have changed drastically in the city during those years.”
Uhall pointed to projects like the downtown revitalization and the BullStreet development as examples of Columbia’s growth in recent years. He said city officers are dealing with more incidents involving “vulnerable” roadway users like motorcyclists and pedestrians.
A good deal of the collisions involving pedestrians haven’t been in the crowded areas of downtown.
Sgt. Bob Uhall, Columbia Police Department
Two pedestrians were killed in the city in both 2013 and 2014, according to police. Three died in 2015.
In 2016, five pedestrians were killed, while motorcycle deaths ticked down from five to four, according to the coroner’s office.
“A good deal of the collisions involving pedestrians haven’t been in the crowded areas of downtown,” Uhall said. “We’ve had individuals struck out on Garners Ferry, a big, wide road. Some of the places people are getting hit, you wouldn’t ever expect to see a pedestrian.”
Of the five fatal crashes involving pedestrians in 2016, two happened near downtown – at Main Street and Elmwood Avenue and on the 300 block of Gervais Street.
All but one of the fatal pedestrian crashes in 2015 and 2016 happened between 6 and 10 p.m.
“We are seeing more pedestrian deaths where motorists aren’t expecting to see pedestrians,” said Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas. “Drivers have most of the blame ... but pedestrians can do their part by being more aware of their surroundings and obeying traffic signals.”
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts noted that alcohol or marijuana was involved in seven fatal crashes each in 2015 and 2016, including two of the pedestrian deaths in 2015 and three in 2016.
“That’s almost half that are directly tied to alcohol and/or drugs, and then you’ve got two or three more that are unable to be tested,” he said.
Watts is also concerned about the number of motor vehicle occupants who don’t use seat belts and about motorcyclists who don’t use helmets. In 2015, four of the nine people killed in city traffic crashes weren’t wearing seat belts, while three of the five people killed on motorcycles and mopeds weren’t wearing helmets.
In 2016, four of the nine people killed in traffic crashes weren’t wearing seat belts, while two of the four motorcyclists killed weren’t wearing helmets.
“If you eliminate the lack of seat belt use, the lack of helmet use, the drugs and the alcohol, you eliminate 80 percent of those right off the bat,” he said. “Those are things that can be done simply by making the right choice.”
Columbia police handled 1,356 crashes involving some type of injury in 2015, compared to 1,198 such crashes in 2014 and 1,243 in 2013, according to department numbers. Officers take data from all crashes and use them, along with complaints and demands from residents, to target their patrols and enforcement.
“Fatals are important,” Uhall said. “But if we can reduce the overall numbers, we can also reduce the fatals.”
Drivers and pedestrians can help curb the number of traffic deaths by making better choices and getting back to the basics of traffic safety, Uhall said.
For drivers that means keeping an eye out for pedestrians, especially at crosswalks, yielding the right of way and not “racing that yellow light” at intersections, he said. Pedestrians are urged to wear bright, reflective clothing, cross only at designated crosswalks or intersections, and walk as far to the left of the roadside as possible if there is no sidewalk.
City of Columbia traffic deaths