S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 25, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.1225.driving.htm

More personal responsibility needed to prevent fatal wrecks
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 23, 2005 - - A thousand too many funerals are held each year. They're for people killed in car wrecks across South Carolina.

This year, the state is coming perilously close to breaking 1972's all-time traffic fatality record of 1,099 deaths on state highways. By Dec. 20, some 1,053 people had died on state roads.

"If we had any other thing killing a thousand people a year, people would be raising Cain!" said Sid Gaulden, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

Most of the deaths were accidental and simply shouldn't have happened. They're tragic. They fill families with grief. They shorten bright lives for no understandable reason.

"The leading causation of most collisions, whether they're fatal or not, is driver inattention - - not paying attention to what you're doing when you're driving," Gaulden said.

It's often easy to forget that a car speeding down a highway can be more than a means of transportation. In unsafe hands, it can be a two-ton killing machine.

With the hectic pace of modern life - - cell phones ringing, screaming kids, blaring stereos, bad drivers on the road, traffic, congestion and the like - - it's understandable how drivers can become distracted.

But drivers need to remember they're in charge of what can be an accidental weapon.

Authorities say the biggest thing that can be done to curb traffic fatalities is for people to take more personal responsibility when they're driving:

  • Pay attention.
  • Slow down.
  • Don't answer the cell phone.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Remain calm.

By taking more responsibility, South Carolina's drivers can do more than any new law to reduce traffic deaths. Still, there are policy decisions lawmakers can make to further cut tragic losses.


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Just this month, for example, the state took a huge step forward with the start of a primary seat belt law that allows law enforcement officers to stop cars when drivers aren't wearing seat belts. Gaulden said a comparison of figures from a nine-day period in December 2004 to a similar period in December 2005 showed the number of people who died in car wrecks who were not wearing seatbelts dropped from 77 percent to 56 percent.

While early results show a promising trend, other things lawmakers could do to curb traffic deaths include:

Hire more troopers. Twelve years ago, the state had 1,019 highway patrol troopers. By 2000, the number dropped to 961. With budget cuts in recent years, the S.C. Highway Patrol currently has about 820 troopers. Gov. Mark Sanford is on to a good idea of increasing the number of troopers by 100. More troopers mean more enforcement, which means people will slow down and lives will be saved.

Increase aerial enforcement. A few years ago, the state had a vigorous aerial enforcement program that used surveillance to target and stop risky speeders. It worked, according to one former top highway official. But the program got axed when a good number of the speeders turned out to be law enforcement officials.

Stricter enforcement. The state tends to have laws on the books that it doesn't fully enforce, the official noted. If people knew they would get speeding tickets for going faster than the posted speed, the roadways would be safer.

Tougher penalties. Lawmakers could consider toughening penalties for people involved in accidental deaths. Such penalties likely would have a deterring effect, officials noted, and encourage safer driving.

Curb aggressive driving. The state could develop and implement strategies for reducing aggressive driving - - the "road rage" phenomenon.

More drivers' education. Young drivers - - those under 25 - - tend to be more reckless and distracted. More driver education - - particularly on consequences of road rage - - could be helpful.

Intervention. Drivers at the ends of the age spectrum - - young ones with new licenses and elderly ones who may not be as quick to react - - tend to be less safe. Lawmakers may want to authorize a mechanism to allow the state to intervene and re-examine their driving privilege when they are involved in an accident.

Let's not break 1972's death record this holiday season. Slow down. Be smart. Drive safely.

lighter side
12/25: North polling

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.

12/22: Workers' comp needs different overhaul

To the editor:

I am appalled at the changes in the workman's comp that are being considered. I was a paramedic for 10 yrs. I gave 100% to the people I helped. Now 2 1/2 yrs after my injury, I was pumped full of pain killers, lied to, and now my case is closed.. and I have a disc sitting on my spinal cord with a risk of one wrong move, and I do not walk! You say it needs to be overhauled.. you are right, but how about looking out more for the taxpayers and less on the insurance companies!! People are making decisions on peoples lives here...whatever happened to the value of human life! I have forwarded this page to as many reporters that I can find in the state. The working public needs to hear your wonderful ideas!

-- Name withheld upon request, Aiken, S.C.

Recent feedback:


Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political news items from the past week:

Thumbs up

Reggie Lloyd. The state circuit judge becomes the first African-American to be nominated to be U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina.

Jim Clyburn. The congressman rises in leadership to head the House Democratic Caucus - - the highest leadership position of South Carolina's Washington delegation.

Thumbs down

Duke Power. People in the Upstate are rightly upset for having to go so long without power - - some more than a week.

John Graham Altman. The state representative continues to spew his Neanderthalic vision on immigration - - this time on national TV this week.

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Just a quick note to let you know how you missed out this week. If you were a subscriber to the paid edition of Statehouse Report, you would have received the information below on Friday AND you would have gotten other special features:

  • AUSBAND: Incoming editor Jerry Ausband writes about religion and the "intelligent design" debate
  • RADAR SCREEN: A new grassroots organization is coming to SC
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  • TALLY SHEET: Recent prefiled bills
  • MEGAPHONE: Wilkins making waves

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