Highway fatalities down statewide, up in county

Highway fatalities decreased statewide in South Carolina in 2013, marking what is reportedly a 50-year low; however, Aiken County bucked the trend and saw a slight increase.

There were 764 fatalities on South Carolina roadways in 2013, down from 863 in 2012, according to Lance Cpl. Judd Jones, a spokesman for the S.C. Highway Patrol. There were 26 people killed in 22 fatal crashes on Aiken County roadways in 2013, compared to 20 killed in 2012.

Aiken County had seen a decrease in people killed in 2012 from 28 in 2011. Jones said such movements aren't unusual.

“It fluctuates from year to year,” he said. “This year, we had a slight increase. There's no one particular thing that causes it to fluctuate; it just happens that way.”

In a Facebook posting on Wednesday, Gov. Nikki Haley commended Leroy Smith, director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety, for the state hitting a 50-year low in traffic fatalities.

While the number of fatalities fluctuates, Jones said a trend that Highway Patrol is seeing is the number of people not wearing seat belts in collisions that involve fatalities, which usually is between 50 and 55 percent. Of the 26 people killed on Aiken County roads last year, about half had access to seat belts but weren't wearing them. Similarly, of the 764 people killed statewide, about 55 percent had access to seat belts but weren't wearing them.

The leading causes of the fatalities statewide haven't been released, but Jones said alcohol was the leading cause in 2012 and likely will be one of the primary factors again. Of the 22 fatal crashes in Aiken County last year, about 31 percent (seven crashes) were alcohol-related. Speeding has proved to be a main factor in the deaths of drivers between the ages of 15 and 24.

“We continue to stress seat belts,” Jones said. “We continue to concentrate our efforts on alcohol and seat belt enforcement.”

Last July, South Carolina set a record-breaking seat belt usage rate of 91.7 percent, according to the state Department of Public Safety. That percentage rate was based on a survey conducted by the University of South Carolina that was based on traffic counts in 16 counties. It focused on drivers and passengers who used shoulder style safety belts in June 2013.

Jones said seat belt usage is lower at night.

“Typically, it's harder for us to enforce seat belts at night,” he said. “They know it's harder, and with that being the case, they tend to slack off at night.”

Aiken County had its first two fatalities of 2014 less than two weeks into the new year. A single-vehicle collision on Jan. 8 near Bath killed an 18-year-old Evans, Ga., girl, who was a passenger. A 20-year-old Greensboro, N.C., man, who was also a passenger, was pronounced brain dead and later taken off life support.

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.

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