With four months left in the year, it’s too early to say that the state will see a sharp uptick in the number of traffic deaths at year’s end. But the numbers so far are not encouraging.
As of mid-August, South Carolina road deaths were up significantly, with 572 people dying on state roadways, compared with 473 for the same period last year. Every category, especially motorcycle deaths, has increased.
Of those who died in accidents, 88 were motorcyclists, up from 57 for the same time last year, an increase of more than 54 percent. Eight out of 10 killed weren’t wearing a helmet.
Pedestrian deaths rose from 49 last year to 61 this year. Ten bicyclists have died, compared to seven last year.
Officials with AAA Carolinas speculate that an improving economy might be partly to blame. With people in better financial shape and with cheap gasoline at the pumps, more people are on the roads, especially during vacation season, which increases the likelihood of accidents.
Police, however, note that some things don’t change, such as the basic causes of many of those accidents. In accidents for which a cause or contributing factor has been determined, the leading culprits are driving too fast, DUI and failure to yield right of way.
Another cause that might be flying under the radar of the experts is distracted driving. The thousands of cell phones and other technological devices that can divert the attention of drivers have to be another significant factor in traffic accidents.
South Carolina – finally and belatedly – passed legislation that makes texting while driving a traffic offense. But, like wearing seat belts, not using electronic devices while behind the wheel might take some time to become an ingrained part of a motorist’s driving routine.
While citations and fines might convince some drivers not to text while driving, real change won’t occur until the vast majority of drivers decide that doing so is just too dangerous. Until then, though, we hope police and Highway Patrol troopers are diligent about handing out tickets to those who text while driving.
The sorry state of South Carolina’s roads might be another factor that is hard to gauge in precise numbers. We suspect that potholes, uneven pavement, crumbling roads and other defects played a role in at least some of those fatal accidents.
Finally, dare we suggest that the Legislature enact a mandatory helmet law for all motorcyclists, not just younger ones? We know that is highly unlikely, but with eight of 10 motorcycle fatalities involving people not wearing a helmet, the message is clear: A helmet law might have saved some of them.
There is little people can do about the driver in the other car. But there are ways people can protect themselves to help reduce the chances of becoming a statistic.
First and foremost, wear a seat belt. Don’t drink and drive or text and drive. And don’t drive too fast.
We hope the trend toward higher numbers of fatalities will take a downward turn during the last four months of the year. But whatever happens, lawmakers need to look at ways to fix the state’s roads and make them safer.