BRACK: Be safer on S.C. roads: Too many dying wrecks

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By Andy Brack   |  Let’s hope drivers are safer in 2016 than they were in 2015.  Too many South Carolinians died in traffic wrecks last year because of cheaper gas, travelers who didn’t wear seatbelts and the influence of alcohol.

00_icon_brackAs reported last week by Statehouse Report, more people died in wrecks last year than any year since 2007 when 1,077 people lost their lives on South Carolina’s highways.  As of Dec. 31, some 946 people died as on South Carolina roads in 2015.  That’s 149 more people than died in wrecks in 2014, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

State officials say with gas prices now at or below $2 per gallon across the state, it’s easier for more people to drive from one place to another.  More people on the roads, such as the 1.4 million South Carolinians who were predicted by AAA Carolinas to drive 50 or more miles during the holiday season, simply makes the highways more dangerous.

“It’s a combination of more people getting on the road and them not going out in the last four to five years when the economy was tight,” one state official explained.

Car_crashBut another culprit in our era of safer cars are drivers and passengers who don’t wear seatbelts.  About two thirds of those involved in fatal car wrecks this year — 625 people — had access to seat belts.  More than half — 316 victims — weren’t wearing seatbelts, according to state numbers.

Just two grim stories from the last few days:

  • Two days before Christmas, a Summerville High School student on a duck hunting trip with three friends died after the vehicle hit standing water on a Colleton County road, lost control, overturned and hit a tree.  The victim reportedly had been wearing a seatbelt, but took it off just before the crash to plug in a charger, according to media reports.
  • On Christmas, two died and one person was hurt in Berkeley County when a speeding car ran off the left side of the road and hit a power pole and tree.  None of the three were wearing seatbelts, officials said.

15.1224.fatalitiesAnother contributing factor to fatal traffic accidents — alcohol.  According to recent state data, drivers under the influence of alcohol are a primary contributing factor in about a third of traffic fatalities — 204 people out of 665 people killed in 2013.  

Mount Pleasant town councilman and funeral director Mark M. Smith, who in December had a family member die in a crash, says he’s seen more deaths from traffic accidents than he cares to remember.

“Regardless of the situation or who is at fault or not, families are oftentimes left with many unanswered questions and are forced to travel down and through a very different grief journey,” Smith said.  “The younger the person involved only exacerbates a difficult and challenging time and process.”

His advice for today’s drivers?  

“If there were an opportunity to speak into the lives of people just before they got behind the wheel of an automobile or just before they threw a leg over their motorcycle, I would give them a gentle reminder to buckle up or put on your helmet, remain alert and watch out for the other drivers on the road and not to take any chances at all if they have had anything to drink or were just tired or fatigued — if not for your own sake, do it for your children or grandchildren.

“We know accidents will happen but let’s do everything we can to avoid them so not to become another statistic.”

In the days and years ahead, pay more attention to safety on South Carolina’s highways.  Buckle up.  Don’t drink and drive — troopers and police are on special lookout at this time of year because alcohol-related crashes are the number one cause of death on state roads.  

And remember to drive defensively so you can avoid trouble.  Finally, don’t get mad at other idiots on the road.  Instead, back off and breathe deeply.

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