The S.C. Department of Public Safety announced this week that a preliminary number of 837 people died on South Carolina roadways in 2012, up from 828 traffic-related fatalities in 2011. However, the number of people killed on Aiken County roadways decreased from 2011 to 2012.

Twenty people died on roadways in Aiken County during 2012, compared to 28 deaths in 2011, according to Lance Cpl. Judd Jones of the S.C. Highway Patrol.

Vulnerable roadways users – pedestrians, bicycle, moped and motorcycle operators – and deaths resulting from a lack of seat belt usage were two of the areas showing the most notable statistical increases based on preliminary findings, according to the statewide report. However, South Carolina still remains below the national average, which saw a 7 percent increase in highway deaths for the first nine months of 2012.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released statistics in December that showed South Carolina dropped from being tied for No. 1 in the country for traffic-related fatalities that involved an alcohol-impaired driver in 2010 to No. 7 in 2011 – a decrease from 44 percent to 38 percent in 2011.

According to Jones, out of the 20 deaths in Aiken County, roughly 40 percent were alcohol-related. Additionally, 65 percent of the people killed had access to seat belts but were not buckled in.

“We are making gains in what has been a persistently difficult cultural trend to fight – people getting behind the wheel impaired,” said Leroy Smith, director of the state Department of Public Safety. “We also have made significant strides in our effort to ensure motorists comply with our primary seat belt law. However, getting people to take personal responsibility for their own driving behaviors continues to be our biggest challenge.”

According to the report, in South Carolina, the top five contributing factors for fatal collisions in 2012 were: driving under the influence; driving too fast for conditions; failure to yield the right of way; running off the roadway; lying and/or illegally in the roadway.

The number of drivers or occupants with access to seat belts who died unbelted rose about 10 percentage points over last year, according to the report.

Additionally, the study found that:

• The worst months for fatalities were January, with 76 in 2012 compared to 45 in 2011; May, with 89 in 2012 compared to 86 in 2011; November, with 80 in 2012 compared to 64 in 2011; and December, with 68 in 2012 compared to 54 in 2011.

• The deadliest day in 2012 was Saturday, followed by Sunday and Friday.

• The majority of fatalities are occurring at night with the single deadliest time slot for both 2011 and 2012 being 6 to 9 p.m.

• Greenville, Richland, Lexington/Spartanburg and Horry counties led the state in fatalities with 66, 51, 48 and 47 fatalities, respectively.

• There were 79 deaths that resulted from commercial motor vehicle-involved crashes in 2012, compared to 87 in 2011.

Col. Mike Oliver, commander of the Highway Patrol, said troopers' focus in 2013 will be on the leading causes of collisions and deaths: DUI, failure to use a seat belt and speed.

Oliver said he and his troop commanders are analyzing data to ensure enforcement resources are concentrated where they're needed most.

“We will continue a strong enforcement emphasis on core violations, but motorists can also expect to see more nighttime safety belt enforcement,” he said. “Our fatality numbers continue to show that the majority of fatal collisions are occurring at night with people not buckled up. Law enforcement is doing everything we can to combat those negative numbers, but these recent fatality trends show that a pocket of the motoring public is continuing to make irresponsible decisions, and ultimately it is costing them or someone else their lives.”