Originally created 08/05/98

State a leader in fatal wrecks



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- South Carolina is a national leader in deadly automobile accidents because people here drive drunk, speed and don't wear seat belts as often as drivers elsewhere, says a state official who monitors the statistics.

The state ranked fifth in America for fatal wrecks with 25 per 100,000 drivers in 1996, and has been above the national average for the past five years.

"And we've found the leading cause of this is driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, driver inattention, failure to yield right of way and running off the road," said Terecia Wilson, assistant administrator in the state Office of Safety and Grants.

By comparison, the state ranks 33rd in gun-related injuries.

The numbers come from the latest edition of the Census Bureau's State and Metropolitan Area Data Book.

Ms. Wilson said that while South Carolina's population grows, highway improvements have not kept up, so there is more congestion. In addition, almost 39 percent of South Carolina drivers did not wear seat belts in 1996.

The national average of seat belt use is 68 percent, while South Carolina's is 61 percent. Whether people wear their seat belts is a big factor in whether they also are killed in an accident, she said.

Aggressive driving is the other leading cause of traffic deaths, she said. Ms. Wilson advises people should slow down and pay better attention to their driving.

"Give yourself enough time to get there and pay attention. I've seen people driving and reading the newspaper, brushing their teeth, shaving, talking on the phone and eating," she said.