Fewer motorists are dying on South Carolina roads.
If the trend holds, the state could have the lowest number of traffic deaths since the 1980s.
As of Thursday, 444 people have died in traffic collisions this year, down from 542 people for the same period in 2009.
This is the third consecutive year with a drop in the number of traffic fatalities, said Mark Keel, director of the state Department of Public Safety.
Experts say the trend is due to enforcement efforts and external factors such as advancements in vehicle safety and medical intervention.
The last time the state had fewer than 800 traffic deaths in a year was in 1982 when 730 people died on the roads.
"We're making dramatic progress," Keel said.
On Thursday, the number of fatalities was down by 98. That many fewer families have to deal with the loss of a loved one, Keel said. "We can't put a price on that."
The latest figures include a crash Wednesday on Interstate 95 in Colleton County that left a Pennsylvania couple dead and nine others injured.
Keel said he attributes the trend of fewer traffic deaths to targeted enforcement by troopers in the areas of speeding, drunken driving and seat belt use.
Also, Keel said the troopers themselves have been a factor in the downward trend. The cut in deaths came despite budget woes that have cut the number of troopers on the roads.The state had 943 full-time troopers in July 2008. Now, the number is 833, Keel said.
"I can't overemphasize how hard these guys are working," Keel said. "They have stepped up enforcement, and I am just so proud of what they've done."
In 2008, South Carolina was No. 1 in the country for the number of alcohol-related deaths. In response, Keel said, troopers increased the number of drunken driving arrests by 30 percent from 2008 to 2009 and dropped the state's ranking.
Another area where the state is gaining ground is in seat belt use, Keel said. Seat belts are used in South Carolina at a higher rate now than ever before. In a June survey, the seat belt usage rate was 85.4 percent, up from 81.5 percent in 2009. The national average is 84 percent.
College of Charleston sociologist Heath Hoffmann said enforcement can play a part, but the decrease in highway deaths is representative of a national trend.
In 1982, nearly 44,000 people died on American roadways. The number dropped to about 34,000 in 2008, he said.
Hoffmann said the trend can be attributed to many factors including safer cars, a stigma against drunken driving, media campaigns, advancements in medicine and seat belt use.
Sociologists: Signs marking roadside deaths lack personal expression
COLUMBIA The new state Department of Transportation signs to honor loved ones killed on South Carolina roadways aren't expected to significantly cut back on the number of homemade memorials, two College of Charleston sociologists said Thursday.
Sociologists George Dickinson and Heath Hoffmann, who co-authored a study on the topic that appeared last month in the British journal "Mortality," said roadside memorials are often highly individual expressions of grief that Americans are using more as part of the mourning process.
Hoffmann said people often put together the memorials with items that were important to their loved one. "The state sign looks really pretty and nice, but it's not personal," he said. "It's not uncommon for people to leave a carton of cigarettes and pour a beer on the spot or take a shot of whiskey."
The state DOT will offer roadside plaques for $250 to honor loved ones killed in traffic collisions. Applications will be accepted beginning Monday.
Transportation Secretary Buck Limehouse said he hopes the new signs will "organically" drop the number roadside memorials. He said loved ones risk their own lives when they put up the homemade memorials, and some end up becoming a safety hazard to drivers.
Yvonne Wenger, The Post and Courier