COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is seeing fewer traffic fatalities than in years past with the coronavirus pandemic keeping many off the roads and at home this year. However, the South Carolina Department of Transportation reports that South Carolina still has a long way to go, saying the state currently ranks highest in the nation for traffic fatalities.
The South Carolina Department of Public Safety reports that there have been 678 fatal crashes this year. That’s 37 fewer than last year at this time. However, Duncan Smith, a SCDOT State Traffic Safety Engineer, said the Palmetto State has ranked in the top five states for traffic fatalities for the last 16 years and ranked highest in the latest report.
SCDOT has been focusing on making rural roads safer because officials said that’s where 60% of all fatal accidents happen.
“Given the fact that we have the number one fatality rate in the nation, we needed to think outside of the box and try to get in front of it,” Smith said. “To be proactive instead of reactive, we try to hit the areas that we think have the potential to be dangerous.”
Officials said rural roads across South Carolina can be the most deadly when cars run off the road hitting trees or ditches.
“At some of these rural roads where people lose their lives, oftentimes it’s because the operator feels comfortable, there’s less traffic on that roadway, and speeds could be higher,” South Carolina Highway Patrol spokesperson Trooper David Jones said.
Smith said they have been continuing to focus on making rural roads safer in 2020 through the Rural Roads Safety Program. The program was launched in 2018, seeking to make 1,900 miles of rural roads safer. The department has launched 10 new projects this year.
The Department of Transportation has already completed over 200 miles of the program, and officials said they hope to get all 1,900 miles completed by 2027.
“This program is designed to prevent vehicles from running off the road, or if they run off the road provide them with a safe area to recover,” Smith said.
Jones said that South Carolina has seen a dip in the number of fatalities on the roads this year with a significant dip during the beginning of the pandemic, but that trend started to change in the summer months.
“We saw some of the businesses reopen, we saw more traffic, visitors coming to South Carolina, and we saw more people losing their life who had access to seat belts but made the poor decision not to buckle up,” Jones said.
Jones stressed that despite this drop, as more people are traveling on the roads now, it’s important for people to continue to be vigilant in driving without distractions and buckling up.
“There’s not a day that goes by that the toughest part of our job is to knock on a door and give a family the worst news of their life,” Jones said. “So as I sit around this Thanksgiving and get to hold onto my family, I think of those who don’t get that opportunity and the reality is it happens a couple times a day in South Carolina.”