Thirteen people have died on Aiken County roadways this year, and state and local authorities say that's 13 too many as they gear up for Sober or Slammer.


The annual campaign kicks off each year in the final stretch of what law enforcement officers have labeled the 100 Deadly Days of Summer – the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day during which traffic fatalities typically spike.


On Thursday, officers from the Aiken Department of Public Safety, the North Augusta Department of Public Safety and the S.C. Highway Patrol kicked off the initiative with a press conference at Aiken Public Safety Substation 4 on Silver Bluff Road. Similar events were held around the state Thursday.


Officers stressed the importance of seat belt usage and not drinking and driving to cut down on the number of roadway fatalities across the state. The S.C. Department of Public Safety is using media advertisements, billboards and “alternative advertising” such as anti-DUI warnings on ice boxes, gas pump handles and box trucks to get the message out, but they're also trying something different this year.


Officers are encouraging residents to join the Target Zero conversation and let officials know what residents and their families and friends are doing to make highways safer, by posting to social media using the hashtag #TargetZeroSC.


For 20-year-old Kerstin Wright, the message means more than just the sign bearing the hashtag that she held up at Thursday's press conference. Her uncle was killed by a drunken driver in 2005 at the age of 18.


“He was more like an older (sibling) to my brothers and I than an uncle because our ages were really close,” she said.


Wright and her grandmother, Edie Graham, have since gotten involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which works closely with law enforcement on campaigns like Sober or Slammer and #TargetZeroSC.


“It's trying to get the younger drivers more involved and aware of what's happening, and what they can do to stop it,” Wright said.


Last year, South Carolina saw its lowest number of fatalities in 30 years. According to Lance Cpl. Judd Jones, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol, 437 people have died on South Carolina highways this year – a decrease of 17 fatalities compared to the same point last year. At 13 fatalities, Aiken County has seen five fewer people killed this year compared to this point last year.


“Still, one fatality is more than what we want,” Jones said. “We want the public to get that concept – how many fatalities on our roadways is too many?”


Jones said officials are expecting more travel than usual during the Labor Day holiday this year, and children going back to school will add to the traffic. Anyone who sees a possibly impaired motorist is asked to call 911 or the Highway Patrol by dialing *HP.


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.