State and local police are stepping up traffic enforcement in “hot spots” around Chester County, citing a rise in fatalities.
Leaders of the S.C. Highway Patrol, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and three local police departments announced the formation of a multi-agency task force on Friday, saying the rise in fatalities shows the need for a stronger response from law enforcement.
Officers didn’t want to say what areas they would target – they don’t want to give speeders a heads-up on what roads to avoid – but said drivers should expect to see more patrol cars and more flashing lights.
“As an agency, we can see where collisions have happened before, what time of day they happened, and target our enforcement on those areas,” said Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Gary Miller during a joint news conference Friday at the Chester County Law Enforcement Center. “It’s very scientific.”
Miller was backed by a row of uniformed troopers in announcing the new task force, as well as sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Chester, Great Falls and Fort Lawn police departments, all of whom will join forces in the statewide “Target Zero” campaign – meaning a goal of zero road deaths.
In 2011 and 2012, six people died on Chester County roadways. But in 2013, law enforcement saw that number rise to 11, and so far this year, eight drivers, passengers or pedestrians have died in Chester County collisions, an average of one per month.
Patrolmen see local deaths on a dangerously upward trend, even as fatalities in York and Lancaster counties are down.
“Statewide, we’ve seen a reduction in traffic fatalities; 18 less than what we had last year,” said Capt. Bobby Albert, commander of S.C. Troop 4, the Highway Patrol unit covering the northern part of the state. “But in Chester, the number went up to 11 last year, and this year we’re on pace to have 12.”
Over the same four years, year-to-date traffic fatalities have fallen statewide – to 490 this year from 550 through Sept. 1, 2011.
Lance Cpl. J.S. Bair of the Highway Patrol said he’s noticed an increase in traffic accidents over his 17 years patrolling Chester and Fairfield counties.
“There’s more traffic on the road and less officers to respond,” Bair said.
A coordinated response involving all the local agencies will make a difference, the patrolman said. Even members of the Department of Public Safety’s motorcycle unit will be called up as part of the enforcement drive.
“Everyone we can get helps,” he said. “That’s just one more man we can use.”
The crackdown will take on many forms. Stepped up DUI enforcement is one component, as is seat belt usage.
Miller said 45 percent of those dying in Chester County accidents were not wearing a seat belt, versus a 95 percent compliance statewide with the seat belt law.
Since June 9 of this year, texting while driving has been illegal in South Carolina, and anyone driving distracted can be ticketed. Drivers are encouraged to report traffic violators by dialing *HP.
Law enforcement also is using social media to combat reckless driving, tagging messages with #TargetZeroSC to highlight the goal of reducing fatalities.
“That’s how a lot of kids communicate now, so that’s what you have to do to reach them,” said Albert.
Other agencies involved in the task force are eager to tackle the rising number of fatalities.
“I’ve got my ticket book,” said Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood. “I’m ready to write tickets myself.”
The scope of the enforcement effort, and the amount of attention agencies are putting on it, should tell drivers exactly how seriously officers take reducing the fatality numbers as much as possible.
“Somebody might say Target Zero is unrealistic,” Miller said. “But how many deaths are acceptable in your family?”