During the past three years, 25 people lost their lives on a lonely 22-mile stretch of Interstate 26, a zone of death that officials say is one of the deadliest in the nation.
Hoping to reduce future deaths, state troopers and county deputies on Monday began what they described as an "aggressive" crackdown on speeding and other driving violations on I-26.
In a news conference Monday morning, state troopers said they would dedicate four troopers in unmarked cars between Jedburg and Harleyville until speeds and wrecks decline.
Troopers on motorcycles and deputies from the Dorchester and Berkeley county sheriff's offices also will assist this new team, said Capt. Chris Williamson of the state Highway Patrol. "We're not out here to pick on people," he said. "It's not a ticket-writing mission. But we are going to be aggressive."
Williamson said that federal traffic safety data show certain parts of I-26 are among the deadliest in the nation, and that his team's focus on I-26 is part of a larger effort to reduce deaths and collisions between Jedburg and the Interstate 95 interchange.
Transportation Department engineers also are studying whether to install new lights, reflective "high-crash corridor" signs and "rumble strips" -- rough patches of pavement designed to wake up dozing drivers on certain stretches.
"Our overall goal is to save people's lives," Williamson said.
The crackdown comes in the wake of a Post and Courier Watchdog analysis earlier this year that identified death zones around Ridgeville and Harleyville that had fatality rates three times higher than other stretches of I-26.
During the news conference Monday, state troopers presented new data showing that 25 people died between 2007 and the end of 2009 between mile markers 194 in Jedburg and 172 near Harleyville.
All 25 involved wrecks in which a single car ran off the road, often because a driver was speeding, over-corrected, wasn't paying attention or fell asleep at the wheel.
"In our minds, we feel that most of these collisions can be prevented," Williamson said.
He said the new I-26 enforcement team will mainly patrol during periods when more accidents tend to happen -- Thursday through the weekend -- and will operate until it can see measurable declines in accidents and average speeds.
He said troopers aren't targeting drivers who travel just a mile or two over the speed limit; instead, he said troopers will be on the lookout for drivers who aren't paying attention, who fail to signal properly, change lanes improperly and are clearly driving too fast. He said the special I-26 enforcement team doesn't have any ticket quotas. "We don't conduct business like that."
Williamson said I-26 typically has one trooper in each county patrolling I-26. Now, it will have four focusing on I-26, with additional troopers assigned during key periods. There is no set timetable for ending the operation. "We just want to drivers to stay alert, not speed, and hold their vehicles in the road," he said.