AIKEN -- Sue Townsend won't be surprised if the state constructs an accident reconstruction substation in Aiken County sometime soon.
"When we have crashes, we tend to have multiple deaths," the Aiken County coroner said.
Statistics released Thursday by the American Automobile Association support her observation. Aiken County jumped from the state's second-least dangerous counties for drivers in 1997 to the 16th-most dangerous in 1998.
A total of 50 driving-related fatalities last year ranked Aiken third in the state. In addition, Aiken led the state with 11 tractor-trailer deaths. And so far this year, Aiken County has had 26 traffic-related deaths, which puts it on pace to match last year's record-breaking total.
"Those are statistics I'm not very proud of, nor should anybody be," Mrs. Townsend said.
In 1997, Aiken County only had 23 traffic-related fatalities.
Statistics in the report show that more than 4 million miles were covered by drivers in Aiken County in 1998. A total of 3,052 accidents were reported, resulting in 1,595 injuries. Statewide, traffic deaths increased 10.9 percent and the state's deaths per one hundred million miles traveled rose 4.5 percent, making South Carolina one of the most dangerous states in the nation.
The number of deaths increased by 98 -- from 903 to 1,001 across the state -- but injuries and collisions both declined from 1997 totals.
The most dangerous of South Carolina's 46 counties were Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Florence and Lancaster. The safest were Lexington, Colleton, Newberry, Jasper and Orangeburg.
The rankings were based on a formula that included vehicle miles traveled, collisions, injuries and deaths for each county.
Drivers must continue to practice defensive driving, wear their seat belts and not drink and drive, the coroner said.
"Everyone needs to wake up and pay attention," she said. "Or my deputies and I shall never go to bed."
Aiken County has already had two accidents that resulted in three or more fatalities this year.
On June 27, an elderly Florida woman crossed the median of Interstate 20 and slammed head-on into a vehicle carrying three construction workers from Jonesboro, Ga. The three men, the Florida woman and her husband were all killed.
And in January, police say teen-ager Shayna Lively was intoxicated when she drove the wrong way down I-20 and killed a man and his two small daughters.
Hoping to reduce the chances of more accidents like those, State Department of Public Safety Director Boykin Rose said special traffic safety enforcement is planned to begin in mid-August and last 90 days.
The units will pay special attention to Interstates 77, 20 and 26 where speed limits were increased to 70 mph earlier this year.
"I would like to believe we are a smart community that can learn from mistakes," Mrs. Townsend said. "We must learn to drive defensively, because we can have stupid people coming from out-of-state."