S.C. troopers aim for zero tri-county road deaths

State Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Chris Williamson (center) announces Wednesday the department’s initiative aimed at lowering the number of traffic fatalities to zero. A 24-member team of troopers, known as the Target Zero Team, will focus on problem areas in Berkeley, Charleston and other counties statewide.

Four tri-county-area corridors are among the 16 deadliest in the state and are the focus of a S.C. Department of Public Safety initiative to curb a statewide uptick in traffic fatalities.

The reasoning behind the department’s Target Zero campaign is simple, Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Chris Williamson said during a news conference at the S.C. Department of Transportation District Office in North Charleston.

“The only acceptable number of traffic deaths in our state is zero. We believe that the loss of even one life on our highways is unacceptable because that life is not just a statistic, it is someone’s family member or a friend,” Williamson said.

The announcement came intentionally between Memorial Day and Labor Day, to help lower fatalities during what troopers have come to refer to as 100 Deadly Days of Summer.

To do so, Highway Patrol troopers partnered with SCDOT to identify 16 high-crash and high-fatality corridors across the state — four of which fall in the tri-county area.

“The Target Zero Team troopers will be dedicated to monitoring these deadly corridors,” Williamson said.

Drivers can expect to see troopers using handheld radar, conducting patrols and setting up public safety checkpoints.

“But most importantly, the motoring public can expect for the Highway Patrol to have greater visibility on these roads, and we know that’s welcoming news,” he said.

Troopers will target problem areas in Berkeley, Charleston, Orangeburg, Lexington, Richland, Horry, Greenville and Anderson counties.

Specific roads include: Interstate 26 between S.C. Highway 27 and mile marker 195; Interstate 26 between mile markers 204 and 214; College Park Road between North Main Street and U.S. Highway 78; and Savannah Highway between Bees Ferry Road and Folly Road.

Twenty-four state troopers, known collectively as the Target Zero Team, will crack down on DUIs, seat belt and speeding violations — the leading causes of fatal wrecks in the state.

“Sadly, our troopers see horrible crashes on a daily basis caused by one of these three factors, and often a combination of them,” Williamson said.

Twelve “seasoned” members of the team already have been selected with six assigned to the Lowcountry, Williamson said. Troopers hope to have the rest of the team selected soon, he said.

An increase in traffic fatalities reported in those areas and elsewhere across the state was “not acceptable,” Williamson said.

This summer alone saw the loss of 159 lives — up 10 from last year at this point in the season, Williamson said.

Twenty-eight people died this year in Charleston County wrecks between Jan. 1 and July 26, Public Safety reported. An additional 20 deaths were reported in Berkeley County and 19 in Dorchester County.

A total 518 deaths were reported across the state. The number was up from the 436 deaths during the same time period last year. The state averages 800 fatalities a year, DOT numbers show.

Charleston County sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson welcomed Public Safety’s effort, saying deputies plan to work in collaboration with troopers to bring numbers down in the Charleston area.

“When you work in concert with other agencies, you place more law enforcement on the highways who have that expertise in identifying drivers who may be impaired or other safety hazards,” he said. Deputies may also assist troopers at designated checkpoints in Charleston County, Watson said.

Several billboards will promote the initiative, as well as television commercials, Williamson said.

He called on motorists to drive defensively, designate sober drivers, avoid distractions on the road and always use seat belts.

“Simple violations or mistakes behind the wheel can contribute to an overall deadly pattern on our roads. ... We need you to stand hand in hand with us. We will arrive at Target Zero by working united as a team,” Williamson said.

For more details on Target Zero, visit the initiative online at SCDPS.gov/TZ or sctargetzeroplan.org/.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.