As South Carolina joins neighboring states to crack down on speeding in an attempt to save lives, it still has a ways to go to reach the ultimate safety destination.
Since the start of 2017, there have been at least 82 fatal wrecks and 93 deaths either in York, Lancaster and Chester counties or involving residents of the three-county area.
Residents of Texas, New York, Florida, North Carolina and several South Carolina counties have died in this area.
Just in York County, local residents from Rock Hill, Fort Mill, York, Clover, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie, Hickory Grove and Sharon have died. At least 14 Rock Hill residents alone have died.
The overwhelming majority of deaths, in the tri-county area and statewide, involve one fatality per wreck and happen either in the deceased person’s home county or in a neighboring county.
Highway and public safety officials in South Carolina want to eliminate traffic fatalities. Target Zero, as it’s known, was described by South Carolina Department of Public Safety director Leroy Smith when he announced the launch of two dozen new officers in 2015 for Target Zero traffic enforcement.
“We believe that the loss of even one life on our highways is unacceptable,” he said. “We want every driver, every family in our state, to take the pledge to make Target Zero their personal goal.”
Statistics show York, Lancaster and Chester counties are off to a little better start this year than in 2017.
Through July 15, the South Carolina Highway Patrol reported five fewer fatal wrecks and three fewer fatalities either in those counties or involving residents from them than in the same period of 2017.
For all of 2017, there were 58 fatal wrecks in the three counties or involving their residents. Those wrecks accounted for 64 deaths. York County had the largest number.
On July 15, South Carolina joined Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee in the second annual Operation Southern Shield. The week-long effort puts more officers on the road to cut down on speeding, distracted driving, driving under the influence and seat belt violations.
“Adding officer presence, most people just seeing more officers out there, is a big step to getting more people to slow down and pay attention,” said Lance Cpl. Gary Miller with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Miller said it’s no coincidence the enforcement effort comes during the summer.
“We’re a tourist state,” he said. “A lot of transient people, lot of people traveling from out of state through South Carolina and even people traveling in-state. Our traffic definitely goes up during the summertime.”
Other participating states see similar summer surges, which is why summer typically is the high point annually for traffic fatalities.
“The more time you spend on the highway, the greater your chance of being involved in some kind of collision,” Miller said.
Last year, there were 16 fatalities on South Carolina roads the week of Operation Southern Shield. In 2016, there were 21 in a comparable week. Speed-related fatalities were down from nine to six, too.
In 2017, almost 38 percent of all fatal wrecks in South Carolina involved speeding. There were 45,156 total speed-related collisions in 2017.
The highway patrol data doesn’t account for every traffic death in the state. Especially in this area, which is near a state line, a wreck might lead to a later death at a North Carolina hospital, which wouldn’t be listed by highway patrol. It happened last month when a North Carolina motorcyclist was killed after wrecking in Indian Land.
The highway patrol doesn’t investigate every wreck. Some happen within municipalities or other jurisdictions. When a Fort Mill woman died in a July 12 wreck on U.S. 21 Business, the incident didn’t appear in the highway patrol fatality list.
The South Carolina Office of Highway Safety lists more than just highway patrol data. As of the start of the Operation Southern Shield campaign, according to that office, there were 469 fatal crashes reported in South Carolina and 507 people killed in 2018. Both numbers were down from the 509 crashes and and 556 deaths reported during the same span last year.
Of the 507 people killed through July 15 — which includes pedestrians, cyclists and others involved in traffic incidents — only 362 had access to seat belts. There were 181 people who had access to a seat belt, but weren’t wearing it when they were killed.