LAKE WYLIE -- Traffic fatalities in the area have skyrocketed since last year, and local and state law enforcement is ratcheting up its patrols to keep people safe during the Fourth of July holiday.
"The July 4 holiday is typically a dangerous time of year," Cpl. Bryan McDougald of the S.C. Highway Patrol said Monday. "The most dangerous time to be on our highways and waterways is now."
McDougald said 29 people have died in traffic accidents in 2007 to date in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Last year, only 17 had died by this time of year. He said alcohol has contributed to more than half of the fatalities.
"We're having a deadly year," McDougald said. "We're way up on fatals (collisions). That's why we're stepping up our efforts."
Monday, officials from the S.C. Highway Patrol, S.C. Department of Natural Resources and all local law enforcement agencies held a press conference at Lake Wylie's Buster Boyd Bridge access area to announce a weeklong partnership designed to promote safety and catch offenders both on the road and in the water.
Beginning last weekend and extending until Sunday, officers will be heavily patrolling highways and waterways. McDougald said because July Fourth falls on a Wednesday this year, authorities expect heavier traffic all week long.
"We're looking at this holiday as a 10-day span," he said. "We don't know which day people will pick to celebrate."
Checkpoints on highways
Sgt. Chris Blevins of York County's Multijurisdictional Traffic Unit said extra patrols and traffic checkpoints are planned every day this week. Traffic officers from local police departments will team up with highway patrol officers and authorities from North Carolina to catch speeders along the state line, apprehend drunk drivers in known trouble spots and operate driver's license checkpoints across the area.
"We're just trying to make roadways safer," he said. "We want to slow people down and take impaired people off the road."
Blevins said most traffic problems result from alcohol use or aggressive driving. He encourages drivers to slow down, be patient on the road and plan for a designated driver if alcohol is present.
"If we can get through this week without a fatality then we've done our job," he said. "But compliance will save more lives than enforcement."
Heavy boat traffic
Officer Mark Ferrell of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said holiday traffic isn't limited to roadways. Boat traffic peaks, too. Ferrell said DNR officers will be on patrol at all Lake Wylie boat landings, and York County Sheriff's deputies will patrol the lake, to remind boat owners to take proper precautions.
"We plan to check safety equipment before going on the water," Ferrell said. "Keep a good lookout while you're on the water. There are a lot of boats this time of year."
Ferrell said boaters should remember to allow plenty of room between them and other watercrafts, use lights at night and keep a fire extinguisher handy at all times. He said failure to use a life vest is the most common mistake boaters make. Remember, a properly sized life vest for each person on your boat is required by law, he said.
"People think they can just slip a child into a big adult's life jacket. That won't work," Ferrell said. "Ninety percent of all boating accidents could be prevented with the use of a life vest."
Note: Of the 523 traffic deaths to date in South Carolina, only 120 of those individuals were wearing a seat belt.
-- Source: S.C. Highway Patrol