South Carolina is on pace this year to suffer the lowest number of highway fatalities since 1982. While that’s obviously a positive trend, it’s clearly not enough.
The Highway Patrol reports South Carolina should finish 2013 with less than 800 fatalities for the first time in 31 years. As of Thursday, 724 motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians had been killed on state roadways. That’s a clear improvement since 2008, when 967 were killed.
The Highway Patrol attributes the trend to improved enforcement, educational efforts and partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and volunteer groups.
Despite the improvement, though, this year’s numbers are tragic. A positive trend means nothing to the families of those 724 people who received the news that their loved ones won’t ever return home.
The dead include daughters and sons, husbands and wives, moms and dads, brothers and sisters. They died while shopping, enjoying vacations, exercising, or engaging in countless other daily activities.
The toll is staggering. If 724 South Carolinians died from the flu in one year, state and federal governments would declare a major emergency. Resources devoted to fighting the outbreak would be limitless. Special laws would be passed.
Any natural disaster or human calamity that killed 724 people would be major news for months.
State officials, while grateful for the trend, know we must do better. They continue to step up efforts to further reduce the carnage. A new campaign by the state Department of Public Safety sets the appropriate goal. It’s called “Target Zero: A goal we can all live with.”
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Phil Riley, director of the state Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs. “For us to one day, hopefully, reach zero (fatalities), it’s going to take everyone doing their part. The ones we’re trying to get on board right now are the motoring public . . . We need their active involvement and participation in making the roads safer.”
He’s right. For South Carolina to significantly reduce traffic deaths, all of us must do our part. We all must wear seatbelts, avoid speeding, and drive responsibly. We should never text and drive.
We need to constantly warn family, friends, co-workers and others about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Those who don’t listen should face the severest penalties.
If we see someone driving erratically, we should call the Highway Patrol at *hp or call 911.
The falling number of highway deaths is encouraging. But each death is a life-changing tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. We can’t be happy until the toll reaches zero.
If we all do our part, maybe that can be achieved in 2014.