South Carolina is the fifth most dangerous state in the country and lags behind the rest in enacting laws that address preventable deaths on state roads, in communities and the workplace, a new report says.

The Palmetto State received an "F,” outranking only Mississippi in the South.

The National Safety Council, an Illinois-based nonprofit, measured safety laws from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., to determine how well they reduce preventable deaths.

Indicators were used to tell whether a state was on track, developing or off track. How well a state matched the indicators determined the overall, road, home and workplace safety grades.

South Carolina received an "F" for home and community safety and ranked second to last. For road safety, the state received a "D,” just missing the bottom 10.

Residential fires, drownings, firearms and safety for vulnerable road users are areas where South Carolina is off track.

Leaders of some of the state’s largest cities said that despite the ranking they are continuing with efforts to make their areas safe to live. 

“As always, public safety is the first job of government," Jack O’Toole, a spokesman for the city of Charleston, said in a statement. "That’s why well over half our city budget goes directly to police, fire, emergency services and other public safety initiatives. And it’s why our public safety officers work hard every day to ensure that Charleston continues to be ranked among the very safe cities in America for our citizens.” 

A state ranking may not be the best way to tell how cities are doing because each has different ways and areas to focus on for safety.

“For these and other reasons, individual areas in South Carolina surely are better than the failing score that the whole state received,” said Mark Kruea, a spokesman for Myrtle Beach.

Residential fires

As of July 7, there have been 66 fatal fire deaths, according to the state Fire Marshal's office. More than two-thirds of those fires occurred in multi-family, single-family or mobile homes. 

Requiring sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes and residential smoke alarms equipped with 10-year batteries were the indicators that no states in the country met, according to the report.  

State Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones said such protections would provide the highest level of defense for homeowners and help reduce fatal residential fires. 

Most fires with a known cause are related to human activities, such as unattended cooking, smoking and using improper heating sources. 

Jones said educational efforts to help people stay safe are some of the initiatives through the fire marshal's risk reduction section used to address preventable fire deaths and injuries. 

“They accomplish this through research, education and partnerships with local and state agencies that can directly influence South Carolina’s fire fatality problem,” Jones said. 

Drownings

Nine years ago, Summerville resident Michelle Zieg lost her son Brayden in a drowning in the family's pool. 

“It was traumatic and life-altering,” said Zieg, who has been a water safety advocate for about six years.

From 2000 to 2015, about 1,100 people drowned in the state, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Of those, 120 of the victims were under 4 years old. 

South Carolina follows the federal legislation that requires public pools and spas to have drain covers and outdoor residential pools to have barriers, but the report recommends regulations that conform to an aquatic health code proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A state CPR requirement for high schools, a report policy suggestion, will go into effect next school year.

Awareness paired with learning how to swim and other preventative measures, such as those highlighted in the report, can help prevent drownings, Zieg said.

“I feel like we’re at the beginning and on the brink of some really good things here,” she said.

Firearms

There were about 310 unintentional firearm deaths in the state between 2000 and 2015, according to the CDC. 

The state did not meet many of the report’s safety policies: requiring universal background checks, waiting periods to purchase firearms, permitting, licensing and storage.

An indicator the state did meet was having a mandate to share mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Gun dealers use the check to help determine if they can sell the firearm to an individual.

Gerald Stoudemire, president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, said most responsible firearm owners understand the need for responsibility and safety.

“If people have guns and use them responsibly, it’s just like having yard rake or pitchfork or chainsaw,” Stoudemire said. “We don’t need to regulate the rest of them because of irresponsibility.”

Vulnerable road users

Bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians were killed in about one-third of South Carolina’s traffic fatalities, according to 2015 data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To prevent deaths for these road users, the report assessed whether states require all motorcyclists and bicyclists to wear helmets and if drivers must stop for pedestrians in uncontrolled walkways or roadways. 

Motorcyclists and passengers over age 21 and bicyclists aren’t required to wear helmets in South Carolina.

Drivers have the right-of-way when pedestrians are outside marked crosswalk or an intersection, according to #readu the state driver’s manual. When a person is in a marked crossing, drivers can yield instead of coming to a full stop if it is safe.

Amy Johnson Ely, executive director of Columbia-based state bike advocacy group Palmetto Cycling Coalition, said engineering for safe infrastructure, education and enforcement of traffic laws are priorities to improve safety for vulnerable road users.

“Access to mobility is access to opportunity,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important. It’s not about spandex or a joyride. It’s about the mobility of a city.”

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Reach Mina at 843-937-5558. Follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz. 

Mina covers local news and North Charleston at The Post and Courier. She has written for the Boston Globe, the Sun News in Lowell, Mass. and The Daily Free Press at Boston University.

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