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SC Highway Patrol data shows fatal crashes beginning to climb after 2020 drop

Bike on Cosgrove.jpg (copy) (copy)

A bicyclist crosses traffic on Cosgrove Avenue near Azalea Drive on Thursday, April 25, 2019, in North Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Fatal crashes are beginning to rise in South Carolina after numbers fell last year as millions of people stayed home during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic.

There were 461 fatal crashes from Jan. 1 to June 30, compared with 430 during the same period in 2020, according to data from the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

In those crashes, 501 people died this year compared with 486 last year. 

A recent report by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition examined the rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people from 2010 to 2019. It ranked South Carolina as the fourth-worst state for the rate of pedestrian deaths in that time period. 

"We still see the same main contributors that we've seen year after year — speeding, DUI and lack of seat belt usage," said Sgt. Sonny Collins, of the S.C. Highway Patrol. "I can see a big increase in travelers (coming) down to the coast for vacation. People travel from other states to our state."

That increase in road traffic may account for last year's drop in fatalities because South Carolina didn't see the typical influx of tourists and locals stayed closer to home during the pandemic, Collins said. 

Data from auto insurance companies also shows an increase in activity compared with 2020. 

"Our data indicates more people are driving and it's resulting in an increase in auto claims from levels in the spring of 2020," said Roszell Gadson, a spokesman for State Farm. 

With summer here and coronavirus restrictions lifted, troopers around South Carolina are preparing for a busy season. 

"We know these are the peak travel times," Collins said. "We've always taken an enforcement and education approach. On the enforcement side, it's about high visibility. We look at where the crashes are occurring, any trends, days of the week, and assign troopers to certain areas of the state to hopefully prevent those crashes before they happen. We are going to approach this like we have in the years before the pandemic." 

Troopers also travel the state speaking to civic groups, churches and other organizations about road safety as part of their ongoing education efforts, he said. 

"It's just vital that we remember the basics to driving," Collins said. "Speeding, distracted driving and DUI are all avoidable. It's about driver responsibility. If we all do our jobs behind the wheel, it'll be a safer place."

To help curb aggressive driving, the state Department of Public Safety announced the creation of new specialized teams at the end of June. 

The Area Coordinated Enforcement Teams include Highway Patrol troopers and officers from the State Transport Police, according to the Department of Public Safety, which oversees both agencies. 

"During the past year, South Carolina has followed national trends of increased highway collisions, injuries, and fatalities," said Robert Woods, IV, the department's director. "We also have seen a disturbing increase in aggressive driving behaviors, including speeds of over 100 mph, tailgating, drunken or drugged driving and road rage — all of which are unacceptable."

The new teams will use crash data and other resources to direct traffic enforcement efforts to areas of the state most in need of traffic enforcement, according to a statement by the Department of Public Safety. 

Both marked and unmarked vehicles will be deployed, including a group of unmarked, striped Dodge Chargers the Highway Patrol purchased recently, according to the statement. 

"The Chargers feature an assortment of body and stripe colors that allow troopers to blend in with traffic to better detect and enforce aggressive driving behaviors causing injuries and fatalities," according to the statement. 

State Transport police will focus on commercial vehicle traffic, according to the statement. Officers will be on the lookout for drivers hauling unsecured loads, distracted driving, serious equipment violations and other hazards. 

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-323-9175. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

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