Why are Fatal Traffic Accidents on the Rise in South Carolina
Eager to reach their destination, driving under clear skies and on an open road, most drivers do not think twice about pushing the speedometer ten, fifteen, or twenty miles over the speed limit. Motorists can easily look ahead in search of highway patrol cars, giving themselves plenty of time to hit the brakes before coming within radar distance. Visibility and presence of law enforcement officials deter people from breaking the law. This is especially true concerning traffic violations. Seeing a parked patrol car on the median dissuades speeding; and the more frequently officers are seen, the more infrequently speeding occurs. Conversely, if a driver has been traveling for hours and has not seen a patrol car, there is minimal deterrence from breaking the law.
In South Carolina, the annual body count due to fatal traffic collisions has been steadily rising since 2013. In 2013, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) reported 767 annual fatalities. In comparison, the SCDPS reported 975 road deaths in 2016. Less than halfway through 2017, it appears this trend is on track to continue. The SCDPS has reported 404 vehicular deaths already. In comparison, after the first five months of 2016, there were a reported 396 deaths on South Carolina roadways.
It is estimated that 135 of this year’s victims were not wearing their seat belts despite South Carolina’s 2005 mandated seat belt use law. Along with speeding, this is another law that is frequently broken due to low probability of criminal prosecution.
Critics attribute the climb in fatal crashes to a lack of law enforcement presence on the roadways, coupled with a general lack of accountability and leadership from the SCDPS. Despite budget increases at the state level in recent years, it does not appear increased funding has led to more stringent traffic regulation or Department accountability. When asked how many troopers the SCDPS has patrolling South Carolina roads, the agency’s answer varies. Responses range from 760 to 835 troopers; however, no guess reaches the optimum 1,200 troopers advised for protecting South Carolina motorists. When on the roads, South Carolina motorists do not sense a law enforcement presence, leading to increased numbers of speeding cars and a decrease in seat belt use. Furthermore, critics blame SCDPS director Leroy Smith for the rise in fatalities and lax law enforcement. Todd Rutherford, South Carolina minority leader, suggests that Smith’s control of the Department has prevented the recruitment of qualified officers to keep South Carolina highways safe.
Our Analysis of the Issue
Looking at the numbers, it is evident that South Carolina has a problem with traffic and highway safety. The South Carolina Department of Public Safety needs to be properly managed and held accountable. Adequate leadership and stringent enforcement is crucial for keeping South Carolina residents from falling victim to rising statistics. However, the number of troopers is not necessarily the problem. Our traffic ticket defense lawyers have found that many troopers are not citing drivers for their actual speed but giving them a ticket for a reduced speed and reduced fine at the time of the stop. The fine and points from a speeding ticket are set up to deter reckless driving at high speeds. Our law firm is investigating this practice further and will put forth a detailed report of our findings later this summer.